12 April 2007 | groggo
Everyone is off-centre
Emmanuelle Devos is a wonder to behold in Gentille, which is something of a wonder in itself. Some of the American reviewers of this film seem to have a problem in 'labelling' or 'placing' it -- there are, in other words, no common comedic 'markers' to roll audiences into the aisles.
The film is, in fact, very funny, and it's meant to be. It's all in the characters' posturing, glances and nuances, both tacit and spoken. If you don't pay attention, you'll be scatching in too many places.
Devos plays a doctor in a clinic, and the viewer is never really sure if she, like the always-brilliant Lambert Wilson (and just about everyone else in this film), is either flat-out nuts or well on the way. Characters are frequently asking: 'Don't I know you?'; 'What are you looking at?' or 'Do you see me?' They are always fearful of either being forgotten, or not being recognized, or being mistaken for someone else. Names and words become mangled (no one seems to know Wilson's full name, so he ends up being called Philippe Philippe). It's a film about identity and recognition, the nature of what is real and what isn't, and if we can ever really know each other.
This thematic motif is consistent throughout the film, yet American critics will miss it if they are looking for those familiar 'markers' that denote so many obvious American 'comedies'.
Maybe you have to be a true believer in French-style send-ups to really appreciate this gem. Everyone is off-centre here, and that's the way writer-director Sophie Fillieres wants us to view her world. I like her world, because to me it has a strong philosophical ring to it. The film is uniquely French or European in general: taking profound themes and somehow turning them into brilliant comedy, with nary a wacky chase or a pratfall in sight.
The 10 minutes with the marvelous Michael Lonsdale, playing a barely contained nutcase who may -- or may not be -- Devos's future father-in-law, is a masterwork of understated, classic comedic acting. Bandaged, bearded and bedraggled, he explains how he 'recovered' his place in the world, his 'dignity' if you will, after two years of begging on the streets while pretending to be in Costa Rica. His intensity while telling Devos that he watched his wife passing him every day and 'not seeing me' (that motif again) is worth the price of this DVD alone. The acting in this film is first-rate, much like the film itself.