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Slack Bay

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Apr 27, 2017
'Slack Bay'
'Slack Bay'  

"Slack Bay" is writer-director Bruno Dumont's curiously straight-faced film of surrealistic slapstick and ferocious class warfare.

The production is top-notch, from costumes to cinematography to a clearly talented cadre of actors, but the film's rhythm is so amiss (in terms of overall passing but also in terms of comic timing) and the japes are so broad -- pratfalls and absurdly emphasized sound effects -- that it's obvious Dumont is striving for some sort of effect. What's unclear is whether he's achieving the effect he has in mind.

The year is 1910, and a carload of rich summer residents -- the Van Peteghems -- have just arrived at France's Channel Coast. Their insipid presence is, from the first, drawn in pointed contrast to the surly, and nearly feral, aspect of a local family of oyster gatherers, the Bruforts.

André Van Peteghem (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) occupy an oddly-shaped (and, ridiculously, Egyptian-symbol ornamented) mansion that looks out over the beaches. From their vantage they can see the labors of the Bruforts, the paterfamilias of whom is called "The Eternal" (Thierry Lavieville).

Eldest son, 18-year-old Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville), is tall, restless, and hungry for... let's call it love. Father and son supplement their oyster gathering with a side business in which they whisk foot travelers on the beach across tidal pools. The Van Petegem daughters and their cousin, Billie (Raph), are exploring the dunes when they come across Ma Loute and -- voila! -- Billie and Ma Loute, with a glance, fall in love.

This presents endless complications, some of them having to do with the recent disappearances of tourists visiting the area and some of them proceeding from the fact that Billie is transgender. Adding to the plot's quickly wrinkling fabric is the presence of two inept police investigators, the lumbering Machin (Didier Després) and the slight Mafoy (Cyril Rigaux). Less Keystone Kops than Laurel and Hardy, the two of them stumble around ineffectually, while more disappearances take place literally beneath their noses.

The arrival of two more Van Peteghems -- Billie's mother Aude (Juliette Binoche) and Isabelle's brother Christian (Jean-Luc Vincent) -- round out the swarm of idiots on the hill. (It turns out that their problems stem from inbreeding.) Their needs are seen to by village girl Nadège (Laura Dupré), who serves them inedible meals and, in her off-hours, hangs out with the Bruforts -- especially Ma Loute, for whom she has eyes. But everyone on the scene is shocked when, following a storm at sea and a dramatic rescue, Ma Loute and Billie publicly declare their love.

People unexpectedly take flight in this strange film, but the movie itself never manages to. Perhaps it's the grim manner in which every joke has its juices pressed out; maybe it's just a matter of how seriously Dumont seems to be asking us to take this tale of star-crossed lovers and -- ahem! Spoiler alert -- marauding cannibals, a story that if written as a drama might make for quite the potboiler but which, given a sheen of the ridiculous here, would be better played not quite so straight.

Slack Bay

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Info

Runtime :: 122 mins
Release Date :: Apr 21, 2017
Language :: Silent
Country :: Germany

Cast

André Van Peteghem :: Fabrice Luchini
Aude Van Peteghem :: Juliette Binoche
Isabelle Van Peteghem :: Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi
Christian Van Peteghem :: Jean-Luc Vincent
Ma Loute Brufort :: Brandon Lavieville
Billie Van Peteghem :: Raph
Alfred Machin :: Didier Després
Malfoy :: Cyril Rigaux
Nadège :: Laura Dupré

Crew

Director :: Bruno Dumont
Screenwriter :: Bruno Dumont
Producer :: Rachid Bouchareb
Producer :: Jean Bréhat
Producer :: Muriel Merlin
Cinematographer :: Guillaume Deffontaines
Film Editor :: Basile Belkhiri
Casting :: Clément Morelle
Production Design :: Riton Dupire-Clément
Production Design :: Riton Dupire-Clément
Set Decoration :: Martin Dupont-Domenjoud


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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