Slack Bay (Ma Loute) review: flesh-eating French class comedy is an acquired taste
Juliette Binoche heads a bizarre cast of characters in this deeply odd lampoon
Juliette Binoche, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, and Fabrice Luchini in Ma Loute
Film Title: Slack Bay
Director: Bruno Dumont
Starring: Fabrice Luchini, Juliette Binoche, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Brandon Lavieville, Raph, Jean-Luc Vincent, Didier Després, Cyril Rigaux
Running Time: 122 min
When Bruno Dumont, cinema’s most despairing visionary, released P’tit Quinquin – a 197-minute black comedy featuring mutilated cows, bumbling policemen, xenophobia and the Ch’timi dialect – most fans assumed that this deeply strange film was an anomaly in every possible sense.
The surreal, discombobulating Slack Bay sees the director take an even weirder, Pythonesque turn.
Thus, a maggoty mother holds up a human foot in front of her hovel. Won’t the children take another bite? Not even a toe? Posher folks and the police prove too stupid to remain on their feet. Every scene is punctuated by falling over.
A parody of classic French class comedies and an endless parade of grotesquerie, this late Belle-époque lampoon pitches inbred toffs against cannibal peasants. The filthy latter demographic make monstrous sounds and kill holiday-makers. But they are nicer than their wealthier neighbours.
Expect incestuous reveals among the ludicrously bourgeois Van Peteghem clan as they visit their ornate summerhouse, the Tymphonium. The hunched family patriarch André (Luchini) ostentatiously admires the impoverished locals, his wife Isabelle (Bruni Tedeschi) ostentatiously sniffs the sea air (“Divine! Divine! Divine”), and, their sister-cousin Aude (Binoche) ostentatiously shrieks and faints at, well, everything.
Her gender-fluid daughter-son Billie (Rafe, a brilliant newcomer with a gaze that seems to pierce through the screen) strikes up an unlikely romance with the titular people-eating serf Ma Loute (Lavieville). Can their love overcome the class divide? Or will he get peckish?
Dumont’s flair for the jolie laide – an aesthetic contradiction DOP Guillaume Deffontaines emphasises with dirty, bloody spectacles against a horizon that the toffs insist is “picturesque” - has seldom been put to better or odder use.
The actors not only commit to the mad, melodramatic tone – think Bertolt Brecht’s Father Ted – they throw themselves at the material with abandon. Binoche’s hysteria is matched by Luchini’s congenital ineptitude. Of course his brother-in-law is his cousin, he tells the equally incompetent police inspector (Després), that’s “…the done thing in the great families of the North”.
And just when you think this extended Francophile culchie joke can’t get any crazier, characters start to fly. An acquired taste.