5 December 2021

Bertrand Blier’s Buffet froid (1979)

Buffet froid is often spoken of as an absurd black comedy, and also seen as Blier's masterpiece. I can't disagree with any of those words, although I have to add that in this film Blier is doing something quite extraordinary: he is reversing expectations at every possible opportunity, and in so doing creating a hilarious and completely unpredictable movie.

A number of scenes are set in the area of La Défense, which was at the time under development. Unemployed thirtysomething Alphonse Tram (Gérard Depardieu) addresses the only other person at the La Défense métro station (an accountant), and on showing the man his flick knife appears to be threatening him, although he offers him the knife which the man puts on another seat away from them, but which mysteriously disappears. The accountant makes his getaway on the next train but then, on wandering around some underground corridors, Alphonse finds the man dying with the knife sticking in him. Something to do with Alphonse's false memory, or...what?

Alphonse has been living alone with his wife in a new tower block in a very plush appartment for an unemployed man, until he learns on his return home that a new resident has moved in. Alphonse goes to welcome the man – Morvandieu (Bernard Blier), a police inspector – and tells him that a man has been murdered in the métro. But Morvandieu has no interest in this: he believes that criminals are best left in the outside world, instead of inside where they can teach innocent people to be criminals; in any case, we come to learn that Morvandieu has murdered his musician wife because he hated her music. When an unnamed killer (Jean Carmet) confesses to Alphonse that he's killed Alphonse's wife, Alphonse invites him in and so, along with Morvandiau, another of Blier's film trios is created.

And they will go on to more murders mostly without apparent reason until the trio is broken by another killer, hired for the purpose of murdering Alphonse, although he kills Carmet by accident (Morvanieu having told him that he is Alphonse), and when the duo chase after the hired killer a mysterious and seductive young woman helps them and they end up in a rowing boat. Alphonse, in one of the few logical moments in the film, kills the killer by throwing his knife into his back. And then, about to retrieve his knife, he learns that Morvandieu can't swim, so drowns him. It seems that Alphonse and the young woman are about to get very intimate, although she shoots him dead because her father was the accountant on the métro.

There are no answers because there are no questions, or no questions as there are no answers, but this is indeed a masterpiece from Bertrand Blier.

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