Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 27, 2019 1:56 pm 
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Grégoire Ludig, Benoît Poelvoorde in Au poste!

Droll interrogation

A few years ago I reviewed Dupieux's film Reality, which featured a prolonged and frantic search for an Oscar-winning groan. (It was for a proposed horror film.) Au poste (the French title is more succinct, but the English one is a playful pun), so neatly constructed it runs only 73 minutes, is a standard Eighties-style police procedural focused on a relentless, drawn-out interrogation. Well, not really, but that's the format within which it ostensibly works. It's all in the whimsical drollery - with a touch of the macabre that's sometimes scholboyish. The concentrated focus on a shaggy whodunit makes this more uncomplicated enjoyment than the earlier film. And yet it is a self-reflective piece that has links with the French Nouveau Roman as well as with Claude Miller's 1981 Garde à vue (which featured Romy Schneider, Michel Serrault, Lino Ventura and Guy Marchand.) Dupieux makes do with lesser luminaries, but he is well served by the confident lead performance of Benoît Poelvoorde as the high ranking policeman in the room, Le commissaire Buron.

The man Buron is interrogating is called Fugain, Louis Fugain (Grégoire Ludvig). Fugain is the prime suspect in a murder case because he was found with the corpse of a man lying in a pool of blood. He insists he only found the man when returning to his apartment building late at night. Something untoward happens to an underling, Philippe (Marc Fraize) while the Commissaire is out of the room. Is Fugain perhaps accident-prone, or rather prone to induce accidents in others, like the creepy protagonist of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure? Yet Fugain is a polite, well-spoken individual, the picture of seeming innocence.

What is it with that other Philippe's eye, or rather, the blur he has in the place of one of them? Oh, he's just always been line that, he says. It is that first detail that informs us this story not only plays with the interrogation theme, but has surreal, or bizarre elements, like, also, the way Buron's son casually recounts a suicide attempt while offering him a hot dog. Another odd, avantgardist aspect is the flashbacks in which a character meets up with someone in the present time. That could be thought-provoking in narrative terms, but merely odd elements are a guy smoking cigarettes with a hole in his chest, and one eating an entire oyster, with the shell, crunching down. Such self-indulgent whimsy is for pure fans of the absurd.

The commissioner's interrogation is "excruciating" only in the sense that he lets it drag on and on. He not only enjoys it for its own sake, but uses it as the opportunity to hold forth on little points about which he has very particular opinions. In this, Dupieux is celebrating and mocking the detective in films and stories who is obsessed with detail and pompous about his ideas, like Hercule Poirot. Unlike Inspector Antoine Gallien (Lino Ventura in Garde à vue), whose relentless interrogation is aimed at ferreting out the truth, Commissaire Buron simply enjoys the process, and his own whimsies. So we might say Commissaire Buron is a stand-in for the filmmaker, Quentin Dupieux. Like Dupieux, who operates on multiple levels, Buron gives the impression of being both benign and dangerous.

Fugain insists on his innocence, which he thinks so obvious he is in a hurry to be sent home. And, since it's only routine, he thinks, if there must be a delay for the Commissaire to do something else,why can't he go home and come back to finish it tomorrow? Oh, no, replies Buron, "This is not an interrogation à la carte."

Indeed not. And there is a different surprise awaiting us, and then Fugain, at the film's end.

TRAILER[/B]] (This movie can be watched online, Amazon or Vudu).

Keep an Eye Out!/Au poste!, 73 mins., debuted Sept. 2018 at Berlin Fantasy Filmfest; four other festivals are listed on Imdb. It released theatrically in France July 4, 2018, and got very good reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.9, i.e., 78%). Screened for this review at the UniFrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Mar. 2019.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema showtimes:
Tuesday, March 5, 8:15pm
Sunday, March 10, 7:45pm
New York Premiere

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