French Film: 5 Comedies to Raise a Laugh or Two
Best Served Cold
Buffet Froid (1979), Cold Cuts, Bertrand Blier
A film with a dark surreal heart, this is the most unconventional of our pick of French funnies. Blier is a director with a knack for creating hugely popular yet non-conformist black comedies – he enjoyed major box office success with Les Valseuses (Going Places) in 1974, while 1978’s Préparez Vos Mouchoirs (Get Your Handkerchiefs Out) won him the Best Foreign Language film Oscar. He once again hit the jackpot with this crime thriller, which doubles as a treatise on the effects of urban alienation.
From the moment we see knife-wielding oddball Alphonse Tram (played by Gérard Depardieu) striking up a conversation with a world-weary commuter in an empty RER station, we suspect he’s trouble. As the film becomes odder, Tram seemingly becomes embroiled in at least three murders, despite the fact that he appeared to have given said knife away. Yes, it’s confusing and the characters are less than charming, notably the police inspector (played by Blier’s Dad) who refuses to investigate the murder of Tram’s wife because he’s having his dinner, yet Buffet Froid is still a cult classic.
Find More in Le Nord
Bienvenue Chez les Ch’tis (2008), Welcome to the Sticks, Dany Boon
In France, a film’s success isn’t measured by box office takings, but by the number of tickets sold. So, in 2010, when this hilarious tale of regional manners topped 20 million tickets, its classic status was cemented and it was named the most popular domestic film ever.
It’s a simple conceit – a postal service manager is seeking a relocation from his Buches-du-Rhône town to the Côte d’Azur, in order to cheer up his depressed wife, who’s hoping for a nice spot by the seaside. Instead, he ends up getting posted to the northern town of Bergues, where hilarious scrapes and badinage with locals ensue.
Surprisingly, this hugely successful film was largely ignored at the 2009 César awards, receiving only one nomination, which caused director Dany Boon to boycott the ceremony. Cries of cultural snobbery abounded, with the judges, who included the likes of Alain Delon, favouring more serious dramas.
Bad Table Manners
Le Diner de cons (1998), The Dinner Game, Francis Veber
This is another well-loved film with a very simple, if slightly cruel, narrative hook. Smug and modish Parisian ‘intellos’ and businessmen meet for a weekly dinner to which they must bring ‘an idiot’ for the other guests to ridicule. They even have ‘idiot scouts’ who are charged with finding the most absurd potential guests. So when smooth publisher Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) gets wind of a man from the Finance Ministry with a penchant for building replica models of landmarks using matchsticks, he can’t resist… however, little does Brochant know that a bad case of back pain will leave him relying upon the ‘idiot’ in more ways than he dared imagine.
No Accounting for Taste
Le Goût des Autres (2000), The Taste of Others, Agnès Jaoui
Another comedy of manners for your collection of French funnies is this Agnès Jaouihelmed delight, a film that captured the Gallic public’s imagination upon its release and bagged a hatful of blue riband prizes at the Césars.
This is a fish-out-of-water tale which sneers at intellectual snobbery and features a masterful comic turn by Jaoui’s then-husband, Jean-Pierre Bacri, as a culturally vacuous factory owner who needs to learn English in order to boost the chances of expanding his client base.
After catching the eye of the lead in a play, he convinces the actress to be his tutor, to hilarious and unexpectedly amorous effect (do search YouTube for the clip of him trying to say the word ‘the’). A whip-smart movie with a feather-light touch and a colourful array of characters.
OSS 117: Rio ne Répond Plus (2009), OSS 117: Lost in Rio, Albert Lamorisse
We close our comic collection with something altogether more farcical but no less entertaining. Fans of The Artist will recognise its hero, Jean Dujardin, who’s clearly not a man short on self-confidence, in the lead role. Dujardin plays Hubert Bonisseur de La Bath, a cocksure, occasionally useless and ironically sexist secret agent on a mission in Rio in 1967. It’s Nazis he’s after and the tone parodies the James Bond films of the 1960s. From the cheerfully offensive patter of the slick Dujardin to the series of action-packed set pieces – including one atop the city’s Art Deco statue of Christ the Redeemer – there are thrills, spills and wit galore, plus spot-on sets and a great choice of period music. As well as being a fine Bond spoof, this film also lampoons the casual racism of France’s post-World War 2 ruling classes.
Two more to watch…
Untouchable (2011), Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano
Les Visiteurs (1993), Jean-Marie Poiré
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