The Phoenix’s sell-out French Film festival culminated in zany actor/ director Albert Dupontel’s black comedy Nine Month Stretch, with Q&As afterwards. This was only the second screening of the film in this country, after a rapturous reception in France, including 4 Cesar nominations.
Dupontel’s fast paced, satirical drama on the French justice system was a magnificent pop at pomposity. Dupontel said that his first script was ‘unbearably sad’. He tweaked it a bit. The result was a combination of slapstick, mime, Monty-Pythonesque absurdity and gore.
Having seen Sandrine Kimberlain do severe (Simone de Beauvoir in Martin Provost’s Violette), we now saw silly. Very silly. Kimberlain plays Ariane Felder, a lonely, singleton – a judge destined for even higher office, until she is persuaded to attend a riotous New Year’s Eve party. Subsequently, she falls pregnant – but has no memory of the night.
What happens next is one of the funniest sequences of the film. Dupontel spoke of his admiration for Chaplin. It showed. On Felder’s orders, the CCTV footage is replayed, watched by a sparkling, twinkle-eyed surveillance officer (Bouli Lanners) and an increasingly horrified Felder. A figure in a Louis XV wig frolics with a stranger among dustbins, in energetic sexual intercourse. Lanners offers to zoom in. Felder refuses, and seizes the tape.
The plot spins on with increasing absurdity. Bob Nolan (Dupontel), a notorious criminal, known as the Eye Gobbler, barricades Felder in her flat. Nolan is fighting for his life. Burglar and orphan – bien sur – killer – NON! Felder is his last hope. What Felder comes to realise is that Nolan is hers: he is the man on the CCTV footage. The child they have conceived together anonymously brings succour to them both.
Felder’s splendid last minute defence of Nolan in Court is a dramatic tour de force – a wonderful double-play between the law and the defendant, with the court room a bewildered chorus of eyes left, right and up to the ceiling.
Jean Dujardin’s brilliant improvised mime routine on national TV suggested that as the Oscar winning lead in The Artist, he was underused.
Dupontel was charming, mischievous and resolvedly un-politically correct. When’s the next one?