This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Alain (Francois Morel) worries. It’s just what he does these days, despite his nominal day job as a patent lawyer. It’s not entirely unfounded, after all he will have to go under the knife of his friend and doctor Georges (Bernard Mazzinghi). Despite overwhelming medical opinion that he has nothing to worry about he does, and it’s starting to show.
He starts taking off from work early, taking the opportunity to compose his last will and testament into his ever present Dictaphone. He covers all of this up from his beautiful wife Cecile (Ornella Muti). After all, she’d only worry if she found out.
The problem is he’s a poor liar, so it’s all too easy for Cecile to notice something is amiss from his unusual behaviour and she starts to worry; only she’s worried that he’s having an affair. She press gangs Alain’s secretary Claire (Valerie Mairesse) into spying on him while Cecile starts suspiciously eyeing her circle of friends for any signs that they’re a little too familiar with hubby.
So far, so generic. Not that it’s in any way unenjoyable but it’s hardly worthy of the varied film festival plaudits. Things take a slightly more compelling turn after Cecile asks Pascal (Gilbert Melki) the policeman husband of her best friend Agnes (Dominique Blanc) to tail poor unsuspecting Alain. Taking a fancy to Cecile, the scruple deficient copper uses it as an entry strategy to Cecile’s drawers. Meanwhile Alain has not only convinced himself he’s in imminent danger of dying from some particularly nasty cancer variant he’s noticed that Cecile has been acting somewhat out of character and that someone seems to be following him.
Initially suspecting his wife of playing away from home, he starts his own investigation into her behaviour that’s hindered by his delicate mental state and overactive imagination. Mirroring, to an extent, the earlier actions of his wife after a few days of this cat and mouse he’s convinced that everything up to and including his now imminent trip under the knife is an elaborate conspiracy by some nefarious organisation, perhaps the police, perhaps the government, perhaps The Mulligan Foundation to do something unspeakable to him and everyone he knows seems to be in on it.
Quite how he ends up in such a deluded and panicked state is a masterwork of contrivances and idiocy that could very easily have made the entire movie laughable for all of the wrong reasons. That it doesn’t is due partly to director / writer Lucas Belvaux’s relentlessly decent scripting but largely due to a terrific performance from Fran?ois Morel, of whom much has been asked and much has been answered.
The later portions of the film have the air of a light-hearted surrealist thriller knockabout rather than a standard issue romcom and it’s all the better for it. It’s vital that despite cutting a fairly ludicrous character by the final reels we still feel the initial sympathy Alain’s situation engenders and are happy to continue along his self-delusory path and not abandon him at the first turn. Morel has a face that is so perfect for the character that it feels as though it was written for him, showing just the mix of self-pity, despair and eventually panicked desperation that when he ends up running away sedated from hospital through a cornfield from distant shot to close up before gasping into his mobile simply ‘Claire! Help!’ it is at once hilarious and faintly tragic.
He’s the star of the piece, undoubtedly. Ornella Muti looks stunning throughout but has little to do other than reel off her relatively standard issue lines and only truly comes alive during her arguments with her on-screen daughter. The support is adequate, with perhaps only Gilbert Melki failing to give quite the scheming Machiavellian performance that would have been better for the purposes of this film, but not for his character in the other members of Belvaux’s experiment.
While enjoyable enough as a stand alone experience for full effect it’s best to see this along with On The Run and the forthcoming After the Life, which run parallel to each other hoping to answer the question of what happens to the supporting characters when they aren’t on the screen. It’s an audacious experiment and if nothing else it’s produced at least two decent films, but as an integrated experience it doesn’t seem to work as well as you might hope, on this evidence anyway. The sections from On The Run are used in a way that feels rather forced and there purely for the sake of the experiment than actually being vital to further the plot. To be fair, On The Run was always going to be the most thematically disparate so I’ll reserve final judgements on this matter until After Life pops up in a few weeks.
Despite the damage it does to a twentysomething male’s street credibility to like a foreign film that doesn’t have the good grace to feature guns, explosions or stacks of naked writhing flesh I’m compelled to say that I rather enjoyed this, more so than the one film in the trilogy that does feature guns and explosions. How worrying. It’s probably fair to say that this won’t be troubling the all too frequent Top 100 film lists but this in no way makes it any less enjoyable despite it’s lack of any real original substance, but it’s well executed, well acted and consistently amusing. We can ask for little more.