Saturday, April 09, 2005

La Chèvre

1981, France/Mexico, directed by Francis Veber

I have a weakness for French comedies - not the arthouse kind that often leave you thinking that 'France' and 'comedy' are two entirely separate notions, but the kind that sets the box office on fire in France. The big domestic comedy hits rarely make it to English-speaking countries - at best, they're remake fodder (this film, which did get a US release, was remade as Pure Luck, with Danny Glover and Martin Short). This was the first of three films starring the tandem of Pierre Richard and Gérard Depardieu, and the biggest hit to boot, one of the most successful of all French comedies. The odd couple are paired up when an industrialist's accident-prone daughter disappears in Mexico and, at the prodding of his company psychologist, he dispatches an equally unlucky employee (Richard) on her trail, along with an old pro PI (Depardieu). The two clash inevitably and incessantly; the (rather repetitive) pratfalls are balanced with more polished wit from the pen of writer-director Veber. The marketing of Depardieu to the English-speaking world from the mid-80's onwards focused on his 'classical' roles in films like Jean de Florette and Cyrano de Bergerac, so it was something of a shock to cinéphiles to see him pop up in trashy Hollywood material later on, but he's balanced low- and high-brow material throughout his French career; the main difference is that Hollywood pays through the nose. Depardieu is fine here: a hulking physical presence with little time to emote. Richard is perfectly cast as the naïf, a character he's played throughout his career to great effect; he gets the lion's share of the laughs, both visual and verbal. The only troubling thing about the whole affair is yet more evidence of Veber's apparent distaste for female characters, also apparent more recently in The Dinner Game (Le Dîner de cons) or Le Placard: women barely appear, and those we do see hardly paint a glorious picture.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States