14 April 2021
13 April 2021
Arletty (Laetitia Casta) says, in one of her brilliant oneliners: 'je suis comme tous les français, très occupée', with of course a pun on 'occupée (meaning 'busy' as well as 'occupied', as an allusion to the Nazi Occupation. At the end of the film, when the Resistance question her after the war, she says 'Mon cœur est français mais mon cul est international !' ('My heart is French but my ass is international!'.)
That last sentence just about sums up what this film is about: 'la môme de Courbevoie', the female actor Arletty's long and passionate, but also tumultuous, love affair with the German Luftwaffe officer Hans Jürgen Soehring (Ken Duken), a relationship which continued (if after the war from a distance) until Hans's death in 1960. There's an important amorous affair between Antoinette d'Harcourt (Marie-Josée Croze), for example, but Arletty is prepared to renounce that for Hans.
Many other famous characters (obviously appearing by actors) play a part in this, such as Sasha Guitry, Jacques Prévert, Pierre Brasseur, Marcel Carné and Jean-Louis Barrault, but obviously Arletty and Hans are the main characters.
A fric-frac is a break-in. Claude Autant-Lara's Fric-Fric is a perfectly harmless comedy, and although Maurice Lehmann is given in the screen credits as the director of this film it's generally known that Autant-Lara was largely respoonsible for it: he preferred to keep a low profile after the disaster of Ciboulette (1933), and Arletty (here playing Loulou) said as much herself.
Marcel (Fernandel) played the clerk working for the jeweller Mercandieu with his daughter Renée (Hélène Robert). She's (unbelievably) besotted by him, although Marcel shows no interest, especially when he meets Loulou who's with her improbable sidekick Jo (Michel Simon), the small-time thief who also makes his 'living' swindling people at the illegal card game bonneteau*.
An interesting thing is that Marcel – a typical 'cave' or sucker – not only doesn't notice that Loulou and Jo are small-time crooks, but that he finds the slang they use exotic, and he even has Renée asking in the office what 'doudounes' (tits) are. Loulou and Jo extract information about the jeweller's from Marcel and tie him up, although Renée catches them in the act of the fric-frac and Marcel is more or less forced into marrying Renée and eventually taking over the business when Mercandieu eventually retires. All very unlikely, but nevertheless a very likeable film.
*Bonneteau is set up in busy city streets – particularly if they're frequented by wealthy tourists – which probably explains why I've usually seen it in the Montmartre tourist stretch. It's a highly organised set-up normally using cardboard boxes as tables, with different fake players to encourage gullible punters to raise the stakes, and some members of the team watching out for the keufs. I only recently learned that it's played throughout the world and known as 'Find the lady' in English.
Claude Autant-Lara is not a name mentioned a great deal of late, possibly because of Truffaut's criticism, but far more likely because of his extreme right-wing views later in his life: earlier, he had had very left-wing ideas. Le Diable dans le corps is closely based on the novel of the same name by Raymond Radiguet (1923), and like this novel the film shocked. The novel, like the film, shocked because the story concerns a teenager who has an affair with a married woman and makes her pregnant.
For this reason too Autant-Lara's film shocked, although the director was noted for his desire to shock: the film also caused offense because of its apparent attitude towards war – both the film and the book are set in World War I and its immediate aftermath, and lycéen François (Gérard Philipe) auxiliary Marthe (Micheline Presle) have their relationship while her husband is called to the war.
The husband – whom Marthe was pushed into marrying by her parents – returns at the end of the war to his wife, who has just given birth to her and François's child. The only word she says before she dies is 'François', as her husband stands by the bed. François, of course, is not allowed to attend the funeral: Autant-Lara's film is also an attack on conventions, on the bien-pensant bourgeoisie.
11 April 2021
Mourir d'aimer is based on a true story involving Gabrielle Russier, a teacher born in Paris in 1937 who had a love affair with one of her pupils, Christian Rossi, in the heady revolutionary May 1968 and after. Russier killed herself in her flat in Marseille in 1969 as a result of the repercussions of the affair and a number of performers sang songs about it, notably Charles Aznavour's 'Mourir d'amour'. In fact the tragedy has never been forgotten by the French. When Macron was elected in 2017 the newspaper Libération carried an article titled 'La Revanche de Gabrielle' ('Gabrielle's Revenge'), alluding to the fact that Macron's wife, his teacher Brigitte, was twenty-four years older than him (and married) when she fell in love with the fifteen-year-old lycéen.
In this film Russier becomes Danièle Guénot (played by Anne Girardot) and Christian is Gérard Leguen (played by Bruno Pradal (who was a few years older than Christian and with a full beard)). The couple have the apparently full backing of the revolutionary students in the lycée, although the young guy's father is responsible for the imprisonment of Danièle and the incarceration of Gérard in a psychiatric hospital, although it's quite clear that there's nothing wrong with his son: he's in love, not 'bewitched' by Danièle who (contrary to Gérard's father's claim) is no prostitute.
There are obviously grey areas into which some relationships just don't fit legally, and this is clearly one of them. Here, Gérard is in full possession of his senses, as is Danièle. Unfortunately, in this film it's the father who's crazy, and whose ill conceived legal meddling will lead to catastrophie. There are a few wincingly melodramatic touches here, and a little ham acting, but this film remains a very powerful statement.
10 April 2021
Arnaud Desplechin's Rois et reine is an astonishing film, and at 145 minutes it sounds like a long one, although the time goes by very quickly: it's spellbinding too. As regards genre I'd call it a drama, a (sometimes zany) comedy and a thriller, sometimes all of those at the same time. It's also a highly literate and very intelligent movie too. The time isn't linear as it has numerous flashbacks, a fantasy scene, and it has two main threads that come together around mid-point.
Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric) is, er, a highly strung violinist who's depressed and finds himself dragged into a psychiatric hospital by HDT (Hospitalisation à la demande d'un tiers*) and he not only puts up a fight but reacts in a really crazy fashion, blowing up at the first psychiatrist (Catherine Deneuve) who interviews him, telling her women live in a bubble but men go along a straight line (!) and saying 'Je vais vous dénoncer ma petite connasse' ('I'm going to denounce you, you little cunt'). Psychiatric hospitals are a noted theme in Desplechin's films, as is Roubaix, where Desplechin was born and where there's a kind of slapstick (although frightening) shooting scene towards the end in the greengrocer's shop of Ismaël's father Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon): Desplechin is making a comment about what he calls the town's 'mauvaise réputation'.
Meanwhile, we have the art gallery manager Nora (Emmanuelle Devos). Her first husband Pierre (Joachim Salinger) shot himself dead in a row with her, she's about to marry Jean-Jacques (Olivier Rabourdin, who looks like a gangster), and she has a dying father. Later, she claims she's loved four men but killed two of them: she feels guilty because of the row and because she assisted in her father's death to ease his pain. The fourth loved man is Ismaël, which is where the story comes together.
Nora was pregnant by Pierre when he killed himself and her son Élias (Valentin Lelong-Darmon) grew up with Ismaël: she wants Ismaël to adopt him, although in the end Ismaël decides that Élias would be better off with his mother and future husband.
It's adoption that brings the two strains of the film together, and this is a theme in itself: Ismaël's grandmother (Andrée Tainsy) originally adopted Abel, and Abel and his wife Monique (Catherine Rouvel) have decided to adopt cousin Simon (Gilles Cohen).
This being Desplechin, there are many cultural references, far too many to mention even if I'd caught them all. First of all, right at the beginning we have the homage to Breakfast at Tiffany's (or Diamants sur canapé in French): but instead of Audrey Hepburn (as Holly Golightly) getting out of a cab and eating and drinking on Fifth Avenue while looking in the window in Tiffany's, we have Nora leaving a taxi with a cup of coffee and heading for her art shop – also to the tune of 'Moon River', of course. There are also quotations from Apollinaire, Yeats, Nerval and Emily Dickinson among others.
I didn't even manage to fit in ghosts, of which Desplechin is fond either in fantasy sequences or memory, but anyway I think I've already said enough to indicate that this is a feast of a film. And one viewing doesn't do it justice.
*Meaning that a third party has called for it.
9 April 2021
Adapted from Maupassant's book of the same name, La Vie is deeply pessimistic and naturalistic right up to the last minute, when a note of hope strikes, although I'm nevertheless half convinced that this is the author being ironic.
Jeanne Le Perthuis des Vauds (Judith Chemla) leaves her convent school and rejoins her kindly parents Simon-Jacques (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and La baronne Adélaïde (Yolande Moreau), only soon to marry what appears to be the first suitor to come along: Julien de Lamare (Swann Arlaud). After an idyllic honeymoon, flashes of which will be revisited onscreen numerous times as Jeanne remembers the past in her present hell – and this story is mainly of her hell – she is confronted by the reality of her situation.
And that reality is that Julien is mean (bullying Jeanne for using too much wood for heating and too many candles), bullying (treating the domestic Rosalie (played by Nina Meurisse) very harshly), and hypocritical and philandering (he won't entertain the idea of the expense of allowing Rosalie's 'bâtard' to live with them, and yet he's actually the father). This she, pregnant with their first and only child, finds out from the curé, who in an austere scene in which Jeanne's parents are also there, begs her to forgive Julien. Under great pressure, she does forgive him.
Things seem to return to the early happiness, with Jeanne playing almost chidishly with their friend Gilberte de Fourville (Clotilde Hesme), the wife of Georges (Alain Beigel), and all four have a great time playing croquet together. Until Jeanne discovers that Julien is up to his sexual tricks again, having an affair with Gilberte. She starts to waste away, admits the truth to the priest, and says that she believes that life is made up of lies. The priest, seeing the effect this is having on her, urges her to stop the lies and tell Georges the truth. She can't as it would hurt him too much, so the priest says he's going to do it for her: the result being that Julien, Gilberte and Georges all finish by shooting themselves to death.
Back at home, Jeanne learns after the death of her mother that she had been having an affair many years before, with a man who said she was not fit to live with Simon-Jacques. Ah, happy families! But Jeanne has to cope with her own son Paul (played by three characters as he grows), who at the age of eleven doesn't want to go to school and is very much of a problem child. At twenty he leaves with his girlfriend (later his wife) for London, although Jeanne disaproves of her because she thinks she's just eating up a great deal of money.
Paul won't be seen again, although his presence will be felt enormously. Thinking he'd make his fortune in London, he in fact amasses huge debts, and of course it's the every faithful Jeanne who'll have to foot the bills, causing her to age, to worry constantly, and at the end have to sell the property which has been in the family for many generations.
Rosalie – who is in fact Jeanne's foster sister – has returned to live with Jeanne as a friend, and she is firm with Jeanne in telling her that she can't send Paul any more money. Paul's wife dies, he's of course penniless, and sends the baby on to Jeanne. We're left with the two woman making silly faces at the young girl. Maupassant concluded La Vie with the sentence 'La vie, voyez-vous, ça n'est jamais si bon ni si mauvais qu'on croit' ('You see, life is never as good or bad as you think'.) No? First the monster Julien, then the monster Paul, and now a new generation: how will this one turn out?
This is a devastating téléfilm adapted from the equally devastating novel of the same name by Charles-Ferdinand Ramuz, published in 1908 and also reviewed on this blog. It's a faithful adapatation, set in the Swiss mountains and depicting a very bleak environment of deep snow, marital infidelity, alcoholism, madness, murder and suicide.
The lead role of Jean-Luc is played by Maurice Garrel, the father of film director Philippe and grandfather of Louis. Jean-Luc makes his living felling trees and is married to Cristine (Frédérique Meininger), who loves Augustin (Philippe Mentha), but he left some time before and now she is married to Jean-Luc and has a baby by him. But then Augustin returns, Jean-Luc discovers that she's secretly seeing him, which she openlly admits with defiance, and so begins his rapid decline.
When their young child dies Jean-Luc refuses to believe it and continues to cradle the imaginary creature in his arms, drinks heavily and slides into psychosis. Cristine has a baby by Augustin, Jean-Luc locks both his wife and the child in a barn, sets fire to it and throws himself from a mountain.
They come upon a large abandoned house which Yvan knows of – later discovered left by a Jewish family – and although Odile is reluctant to enter property that is not her own she is to learn that people act differently in times of war: the survival instinct comes to the fore, conventional laws are overturned. For a time then this becomes their home and they live in a style to which they're unaccustomed, admidst lush furniture with fine wine.
The family's wariness of Yvan soon lessons and he becomes a kind of older brother or father figure to the children, receiving Philippe's great admiration in particular. He steals from dead soldiers and sets traps for rabbits, fishes and provides for the family, even managing a kind of bemused respect from Odile when he tells her he'd like to marry her. A former teacher, Odile begins to teach the illiterate Yvan how to read and write. He also has a violent streak and is suspicious of any outsiders, being particularly mindful for the safety of Odile.
There's a blossoming of strong physical attraction between Odile and Yvan which climaxes in anal sex, and – after the short family idyll is ended by the police when they catch Yvan stealing and he's sent to a reformatory and Odile and children join the refugees – the mother struggles with her grief when she learns that Yvan has hanged himself but tells Philippe he's escaped.
Loss, emotional and physical turmoil, grief, hiding, lies, brief and improbable friendships and liaisons, such is the nature of France under Nazi occupation, which brings out the best and the worst of humanity.
8 April 2021
This, André Delvaux's second feature film, is an adaptation of the Flemish novelist Johan Daisne's Le Train de l'inertie (De trein der traagheid) (1950): his first feature was also an adaptation from a Daisne novel – L’Homme au crâne rasé (De man die zijn haar kort liet knippen) (1948).
In her article 'Between Surrealism and Magic Realism: The Early Feature Films of André Delvaux' in Yale French Studies No. 109: 'Surrealism and Its Others' (2006), Georgiana M. M. Colvile writes 'Un soir, un train [...] grew out of the opening pages of Nerval's Aurélia and deals with love, death, creativity, and language.' In her conclusion she states 'in Delvaux's early fiction films, surrealism and magic realism dance a pas de deux, with the danse macabre as a negative mirror, traversed by an Orphean quest for love', and says that Delvaux's early films are more in the spirit of Magritte, Paul Delvaux and Gracq than Breton or Bunuel.
Mathias (Yves Montand) is a univeristy teacher of Linquistics at a Flemish university similar to the one in Louvain where there were strikes and demonstrations between 1967 and 1968. He lives with Anne (Anouk Aimée), a French woman ill at ease surrounded by a culture she has no knowledge of. However she assists in the Renaissance play Elckerlijc, which Mathias is producing, and in which the personification of Death is a prominent presence.
Having just had an argument with Anne, he is surprised to find her on the train he takes to give a talk in another town, although the presence of other passengers inhibit the possibility of any communication. (Communication, anyway, is rare and/or non-existent in Delvaux's universe.) On the train Anne asks Mathias for his copy of Le Monde (which of course is French for both 'the world' and 'people' although she doesn't look at it, and the final shot of her alive is of her looking out of the train window in the corridor, although she will never join the outside: when Mathias awakes he sees the newspaper Le Monde in her empty seat, it is as if she has left the world and its people behind her.
Then things go weird. Mathias tries to find Anne but Hernhutter (Hector Camerlynck) can't help him, and when the train stops for no apparent reason Mathias, Herhutter and Val (François Beukelaers) meet at the side of the trainline and the train moves off without them. Herhutter used to teach Mathias, and maybe Mathias taught Val, but as it is we have three people of different ages – perhaps all the same person – in a hostile no-man's-land in the middle of they know not where. Who lit a fire isn't known, but anyway they keep it going and Val roasts potatoes there.
It gets weirder. The trio arrive at a nearby village, no one speaks their language, they go for a meal and are served something they didn't order, Val dances the strangest dance with a female server who could be another personififaction of death, then others join in, the atmosphere is hostile, and then Mathias is transported as if by magic to a train wreck, where he finds Anne dead (although, oddly, apparently as beautiful as before).
7 April 2021
Robbe-Grillet's Trans-Europ-Express is a film-within-a-film, a kind of spoof spy film with sado-masochistic elements, or rather a comedy that doesn't really go very far but winds itself into repetitive circles, starts all over again, and then ends with a bang: but a quieter bang than at the beginning.
There's a film director, a producer and a continuation secretary working on the plot of a film, to be called 'Trans-Europ-Express', in a carriage on the Trans-Europ-Express. It's to be about a drug dealer called Elias, and as they create the story we see it played out by Elias (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who changes suitcases with another man after giving the password 'Père Petitjean', and he will use these magic words a number of times between the Gare du Nord and Antwerp, the town of his destination. In Antwerp he passes a row of houses, all with a prostitute in the window, although when one, Eva (Marie-France Pisier), comes up to him, he tells her that he only likes 'rape', and she agrees for extra money. After various escapades he learns that the whole business was only a dummy run to test his aptitude, and that the 'drugs' were in fact only powdered sugar.
So Elias is sent on a second journey, although when he meets Eva again he discovers that she is a police informant. He ties her up and strangles her, goes to a night club where he sees a woman stripping, is surrounded by the police and shot dead in the back yard. The three on the train think that diamond smuggling may have been a better idea for the film.
6 April 2021
Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote the screenplay L'Année dernière à Marienbad, which was directed by Alain Resnais and released in 1961. L'Immortelle is Robbe-Grillet's first film as director, and is perhaps less opaque than expected. The, er, action takes place in Istanbul, where a French teacher, N (Jacque Doniol-Valcroze) meets the alluring and mysterious Lale (Françoise Brion), who has other names.
Lale (which mean 'tulip') becomes N's guide and his lover, although she is elusive. She disappears and he looks for her, eventually finds her, although she dies in a car crash after seeing a dog belonging (it appears) to one of the men who have been trailing the couple. N. dreams, and dreams, and drives a car, visiting the same spot as where Lale dies, and he too crashes and dies. A haunting film.
Penelope Houston of The Spectator called this film 'pretentious' but with a 'hypnotic allure', which gives me pause for thought. There's pretentiousness and pretentiousness, let's not forget: any true artist of any nature should aim for pretention because it's designed to reach beyond the conventional, beyond the tedious norm, exploring new territories; but then, there are the pretentions of cranks, phonies and cod-philosophers such as the justifiably forgotten and wilfully unacademic Colin Wilson. Robbe-Grillet, on another very different hand, is a brilliant writer and brilliant film maker who will live on.
This is a 526-page book concerning a multiple murder ten years ago, and which still has France in thrall largely due to various 'sightings' over the years of the guilty man who escaped, Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès: he's been 'seen' in thousands of places all over the world; he was thought to be living as a monk in south-east France; discovered bones near where he is last known to have been proved to be animal rather than human; and relatively recently a man looking nothing like him was arrested at Glasgow airport.
Like Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, Bruno de Stabenrath (as the 'de' indicates) is of aristocratic origin, although the cultural interests of the two – both living in Versailles – are mainly of popular American roots: this can clearly be seen from a Youtube clip from November 2020, where Stabenrath is interviewed remotely from his home, a photo of Elvis Presley clearly seen on the mantlepeice in the background. From their schooldays through a number of decades until the disappearance of Ligonnès, the men were friends, and this book begins with their youthful pursuits of music, young women and the obsession with America which the country holds for so many French people.
Stabenrath – born in 1961 – appeared in a few films in his earlier life, but became wheelchair-bound after a car accident in 1996. He then took to writing books, of which Cavalcade (2001) – largely about his accident and adapted to film in 2005 – was the first. His friend Ligonnès – who married Agnès when he was thirty – very much lived a fantasy life in spite of becoming the father of four children. In 1990 Ligonnès achieved his ambition of touring along the whole of the legendary Route 66, which took him eighteen months, with his friend Michel Rétif (whom Stabenrath improbably calls Micha Frostif). He also spent some time in Florida, setting up company there: his foolhardy business ventures were to cost his wife dearly, in the end very dearly.
Joining Ligonnès at some time in the USA was his faithful friend Emmanuel Teneur, in the book called Rémy, who would follow Ligonnès around France, moving to various places his family moved to, such as Provence and (the final town) Nantes. Agnès was not a little jealous of Emmanuel, although he often helped Ligonnès out with financial loans: a lonely alcoholic, Emmanuel was a non-practising homosexual who even remained friends with Ligonnès when, in Emmanuel's absence, his friend broke into his home and stole 6000 euros and his family jewels.
And then there's L’Église de Philadelphie, a religious sect set up by the Comtesse Geneviève Dupont de Ligonnès, Xavier's mother: she predicted the imminent end of the world, claimed the Catholic church was infested by the devil, and sent out monthly newsletters of her divine revelations to the dozens of followers who financially supported the sect. Both Xavier and Agnès firmly believed in the 'church', although Xavier – in a tremendous blow – lost faith in 1995 when a predicted divine happening didn't happen, but although Emmanuel knew it was a con he kept a low profile and didn't reveal his thoughts.
All the time Ligonnès – who is essentially making what little money he can (and certainly from his down-at-heel appearance it's very little) as a sales representative – is getting increasingly desperate, and concocts wild get-rich-quick schemes. He's now so much in debt that he not only only robs his friend Emmanuel but also empties his sick father's bank account. And he even hooks up with a former girlfriend from his early days when his parents owned a home in L'Île-de-Bréhat (where he met Emmanuel) and cons her out of 50,000 euros: when he tells her things have gone wrong and that he needs another 25,000 she refuses.
And then he discovers his wife is frustrated in a number of ways, and reads her emails: she's sex-starved, has begun a relationship with a certain Icham, and is being conned into a weird mediation course. To top it off, he later finds that Icham is an anagram for Micha, or his friend Michel. His life is collapsing around him.
The desire to create a new life is fully understandable, and perhaps many people in Ligonnès's position would simply disappear. Which is just what he did, although why did this normally completely unviolent man proceed with great deliberation to kill his wife and four children in their home with a rifle after drugging them, and bury the bodies in the garden in bin bags, adding large quantities of quicklime to ensure that they would decompose quickly? And why should he send four-page letters to relatives saying the American drugs squad had nominated him as an agent to go to the night clubs infiltrating drug cliques? Yes, they had called upon a fifty-year-old man to do this – the state of his mind is unimaginable.
Nevertheless, his strategies paid off and it was about ten days before the police discovered the bodies: he had plenty of time to do a disappearing act, and was last seen at an ATM in Roquebrune-sur-Argens after spending the night in an F1 hotel – this was an area he knew very well as his family had spent some time in Saint-Raphaël (which for some reason Stabenrath insists on calling Sainte-Raphaël).
No one knows what became of Xavier Dupont de Ligonnès, although Stabenrath is convinced that he is still alive: he wouldn't possibly have subjected himself to such rigorous planning if he'd wanted to kill himself. I'm not too sure of this reasoning as Ligonnès was so egotistical that he'd have wanted to keep up appearances suicide or no suicide, but whatever the outcome this is an amazing read.
3 April 2021
This is loosely based on Dostoevsky's White Nights. Quatre Nuits d'un rêveur doesn't have any obvious religious references as there are in some of his other films, although the male protagonist Jacques almost treats (mainly in private) Marthe (Isabelle Weingarten) as a god-like being. We first see Jacques hitch-hiking into the countryside to make somersaults in the grass, although in the evening he's back in Paris and sees what appears to be a suicidal young woman along the quai.
Jacques having prevented her from jumping, the two sit on steps and tell each other about themselves. Jacques is an artist in constant search for the right woman, whereas Marthe has already met the man of her dreams, the unnamed Jean-Maurice Monnoyer, whom she's known as a lodger in the flat she shares with her mother. He's had to leave for the States but promised he'll return a year from then, telling her where to meet him at a particular time exactly one year from then. But he didn't meet her.
Jacques escorts her home and they agree to meet, same time same place, the next night. This continues, and in spite of Jacques acting as a go-between, giving a letter written by Marthe to her lover's friends, he doesn't turn up. Meanwhile, in the day (between painting) Jacques is recording his love for Marthe on tape, the last recording just being a repeated 'Marthe' over and over. On the fourth night of meeting Marthe he confesses his love for her, she realises that her former lover didn't deserve her love, and they become lovers.
Er, well not physically, and spiritually only for a few minutes: Jacques buys her a scarf, they continue walking, Marthe sees her former lover, runs up and kisses him, goes back to Jacques and kisses him as a friend, and then returns to the unnamed lover. Time for Jacques to return home and back to his paintings the next day.
Ma Loute is a film set at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was released between Dumont's Quinquin and Coincoin, and has surprisingly similar elements, although the appearance of the comfortable family, the Van Peteghems, is a marked difference. This film takes place in the usual Côte d'Opale area in Ambleteuse and Audresselles, although the Van Peteghem holiday home (of which only the exterior of the actual neo-Egyptian Ptolemaic house appears on screen) is a little further north in Wissant: the villa is in fact Le Typhonium.
André (Fabrice Luchini) is the insufferable idiot patriarch of the family, along with his wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) and André's cousin Aude (Juliette Binoche). Also present in the area is the Brufort family, who live in a nearby slum, hunt mussels and either carry people over the water or row tourists about for a few pennies.
Ever present are inspector of police Machin (Didier Despres), who is so fat that he frequently falls over and rolls down the sand and has to be stood upright again by his slim assistant Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux): yes, they're of the same ilk as the bumbling cops in Quinquin and Coincoin, and also of course of Laurel and Hardy. They're there to investigate a number of murders that have been committed in the proximity, and of course they'll never discover the obvious: that the Bruforts are killing them to eat.
Add an improbable romance between the transvestite Billy (Ralph) Van Peteghem and young 'Ma Loute' Brufort, finish on a note of Machin floating away like a balloon and you have something that might be expected of the director of Quinquin, but not the director of Dumont's previous Bressonian films. Wonderfully absurd.