20 July 2004 | gcrokus
Tawdry and Topical
On the set of a French TV show in the making we see the warm-up man energizing, as they do, the audience of a Jerry Springer-like production called `It's Tissue Time'. A fascinating intro, we are as enlivened as the TV audience as the story begins. The sad truth of the attractiveness of live television shows shines through as guests are humiliated through the words of others, a premise that is expanded on throughout the rest of the movie.
What we gather in rapid fashion is that the assistant (Bastien, played by director Guillaume Canet) cheering on the audience is an ambitious sort that wants to develop his own show after the styling of his chosen mentor, `It's Tissue Times' producer (Broustal, as played by François Berléand) . There are complexities involving other characters right from the beginning, including the presence of Broustal's wife, the unhappy and reluctant companionship of Bastien's girlfriend Fabienne (Clotilde Courau) and the egotistically insufferable `It's Tissue Time' host Philippe Letzger (Philippe Lefebvre).
A concept Bastien has developed for his own show is presented by Philippe and Bastien to the producer, and after being invited to a party at a disco Bastien is further asked to accompany Broustal and his much younger wife Clara (Diane Kruger, recently seen in `Troy') to their country home for the weekend. Bastien's ambition overwhelms any trepidation (he dismisses Fabienne's objections; this is his big chance!) he may have about the opportunity. The idiosyncrasies of the couple are unsettling to him and to us as well, portending a less productive and perhaps more involved weekend then Broustal has mentioned (working on the TV project).
So things begin to happen even on the ride from the disco to the country estate of Broustal. The real reason for the invitation is slow in coming, but is no real surprise as events unfold. But the proceedings are as strange as the setting for them; why does Broustal have an enormous cage with vultures, how normal is it for that man's wife to be so interested in Bastien, and why is one surprise after another perhaps normal in the affairs of Broustal and Clara?
What is great about this film and what sets it apart from mainstream movies is the relentless nature of Broustal. François Berléand gives a performance not unlike that of Ben Kingsley in "Sexy Beast" a few years back. Here is a character with enormous personal presence, generally unlikable but with reserves of condescension and cynicism the likes of which can only be transmitted through a strong performance.
This is a good film with grit-your-teeth moments, comic touches and the general cachet of "Sexy Beast". The Seventies feel is perhaps due to the Continental locale and décor of a manor appointed to the taste of an avant-garde couple. But what plays out at the estate is at times violent, always sexually tense, never touching and at all times unpredictable. This film is not for one with mainstream tastes and children need not view it until well into their thirties. Even the ending is a surprise, and a pretty tidy tie-up at that.
Rating: 3.5 Stars.