Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 20, 2020 9:14 am 
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Crazy doesn't mean funny

Merveilles à Montfermeil, the sophomore directorial effort of longtime actress Jeanne Balibar, is a messy, unfunny comic ensemble piece about far-fetched utopia where a happy and sane society is being sought while two central characters, Joëlle (Balibar) and Kamel (Ramzy Bedia) are a divorcing couple constantly bickering. Maybe the humor is meant to be hilariously dry and offbeat like that of Erwan Le Duc's new film The Bare Necesssity. But, despite several well-known actors, including Balibar herself, things start badly, and don't get much better.

Joëlle and Kamel are both part of the municipal team of the new Mayor of Montfermeil, Emmanuelle Joly (Emmanuel Béart), but they are in the process of divorce. The film starts out - the bad beginning - with a scene in which Joëlle and Kamel and miscellaneous others (hee hee) lined up in front of a divorce judge, behind a pile of dossiers (ha ha) discussing technicalities. (Balibar doesn't seem to have realized it would be better to begin with an intimate scene before moving to collective ones.)

The whole municipal team is working on the implementation of a new and peculiar policy based around forming a "Montfermeil Intensive School of Languages." I didn't quite see the humor of this idea. The program seems to have nothing to do with languages, and famous actor Matthieu Amalric shouting out the name to everyone and throwing up his arms isn't funny: it's just embarrassing, as is a lot of this effort; and I'm not alone in saying so; numerous French critics do too. The AlloCiné press rating, based on 21 reviews in major print publications, is 2.3 out of 5 (that's 46%). Thee were critics who like it though, calling it "sympathique" or "joliment absurde" or the like. It got top rating from the hard-to-please (or predict) Cahiers du Cinéma as well.

Efforts at humor verge on the desperate. People go around dressed alternately in kilts, then Bermuda shorts, then kimonos. No reason, just to be "zany." Two men are prowling the markets giving sexual advice to people. Hilarious! A fat lady goes around dressed as a Mexican wrestler. These gestures fizzle and so does the chaos - an element that, in film comedy, requires a lot of discipline to pull off successfully. There seems to be a constant succession of unrelated scenes. Some are violent, some scary. The lady mayor goes nuts, then is hospitalized. So what?

Comedies are supposed to end with general happiness, right? So the climactic moment is a "Fête de la Brioche," a holiday dedicated to the pastry bun. Everybody dances and makes merry. She lost me at the piles of dossiers. Reports are Mlle Balibar raged against Emanuel Macron, thinking him not sufficiently "upset' by Les Misérales, the recent film about political corruption in which she plays a police officer. Why should he have? It's not a very goiod film. It seems Mlle B. hasn't much of a sense of humor.

This incoherent and disastrous effort should never have seen the light. Easily must have been the worst French film of the year.

To see instead, with Jeanne Balibar, but not in charge: Va Savoir (2001) and The Duchess of Langeais (2007), both Jacques Rivette, no less; Pedro Costa's beautiful 2009 Ne Change Rien, a dreamy portrait of a famous singer, also with Mathieu Amalric, Barbara.

Wonders in the Suburbs/Merveilles à Montfermeil, 109 mins., debuted at Locarno, Aug. 2019; also Bordeaux. The US internet debut is Aug. 19, 2020. Screened for this review a part of the Kino Marquee offering, "Burning Bright," with three new French films, including Erwan Le Duc,The Bare Necessity/Perdrix and Stéphane Batut, Burning Ghost/Vif-argent. All are available from Aug. 21, 2020 for a fee of $8 on Kino Virtual Theater .

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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