Reviews - Louise-Michel
Reviewed By John Stakes
The world of Gustave de Kervern and Benoit Delepine has rarely crossed the English Channel but is well known to native French people and to the wider cinematic audiences of film festivals. In France they have their own TV show for example. Their distinctive brand of esoteric filmmaking is recognised to award winning level.
Louise Michel was apparently a French Victorian political activist. The film of the same name is intended as at least a nodding homage to her. Whilst never anarchic this slice of absurdist cinema is infused with crude subversive charm and sports a “black comedy” label. From the start we know that we’re in for something different. In the title names there is a kind of mischievous destabilising gender sleight of hand given that here the character of Louise (Yolande Moreau ) is a male (Jean-Pierre) to female trans-sexual and Michel ( Bouli Lanners) is a female (Cathy) to male trans-sexual.
This coupling would have made an interesting exploration in itself, but the film’s heart is more its plot and story-line than the relationship between its two leads..
What exactly is meant by “black comedy”? It’s a kind of sub-species of comedy and satire in which laughter arises from cynicism and scepticism often about the topic of death the intention being to make light of what is often serious, sinister or taboo subject matter. When at its best humour and discomfort is felt simultaneously. The participants are often severely disadvantaged individuals who see their situation as hopeless. The Cohen Bros are arguably amongst the slickest exponents of this genre.
Kerverne and Delapine’s Louise is an illiterate newly redundant worker who manages to persuade her workmates now also redundant to pool their severance money to hire a hit-man to snuff out their boss if they can find him in their multi-national conglomerate. Unfortunately they select the most inept killer imaginable, Michel, who sports an arsenal of ancient pistols but lacks any backbone. His modus operandi is to persuade terminal patients to go out with a bang. So a dark to black premises and plot is immediately established…. but is it funny?
A series of set pieces follows, targeting all kinds of socio-economic groups (including WI calendar girls!) and rather like our gunman/woman, these are somewhat hit and miss in their effect. Our two genderless freaks fight the good fight but all their attempts to polish off their victim prove futile. The humour moves from the initially frivolous to the increasingly discomforting as the comedy blackens but at least half the audience seems to have retained if not sympathy for at least sufficient engagement to laugh along with and be discomforted by their antics. The film’s climax was not so much their killing spree and eventual arrest on Jersey but the bizarre sight (has this reviewer got it right?) of Cathy as Michel giving birth in the prison hospital to a child fathered by…… Jean-Pierre as Louise?
Still this oddball screwball gender-bending 2008 French darkly comic flic has garnered a number of prizes around the world including best screenplay award at the 2008 San Sebastian Festival and special jury prize at The 2009 Sundance Film Festival. It fully deserved its inclusion in the club’s mixed bag repertoire of films intended to challenge and appeal to as wide a range of tastes as possible… and managing on this occasion to divide its one hundred plus Keswick audience straight (if that’s the word!) right down the middle!
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