Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hit the Road, Serge

There are quite a few things that militate against seeing Mammuth.

For one, at times it is extremely grainy, which might have to do with the fact that the company which made it is rather jokingly called No Money Productions.

Two, it takes a typical American premise - one defining mistake in a man's life renders him virtually useless for the rest of it - and three, in one hilarious scene of absurd comedy it veers completely out of its own style.

Yet, to paraphrase Andre Gide, you would be much the poorer for not seeing it.

Stomping through it like a depressed, working-class Obelix is an obese Gerard Depardieu. Serge has reached the retirement age of 60 after a lifetime of inferiority-inspired menial work; now he has to prove that he did such illustrious jobs as a nightclub bouncer to qualify for his pension.

The unlikely people who might help him are his supermarket-cashier wife, played with just the right note of sour pragmatism by Yolande Moreau; the corpse of his first love, played by a mannequin-like Isabelle Adjani; and his niece, who takes French lunacy to delicious new heights. Played by the poet and visual artist, Miss Ming (yes, that's her name), she looks perfectly ordinary - until she opens her mouth.

Serge will hit the road on his long-unused Mammuth motorbike, the source of his guilt, and he'll travel through a French countryside that has more to do with Christopher Hope's Signs of the Heart than Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. When Serge passes a vineyard it is not refulgent with light; it has four Muslim workers down on their knees, facing Mecca.

Directed by Gustave de Kervern and Benoit Delepine, like the Coen brothers it is as wacky as any one of their off-the-wall productions, but then it still has that deadpan comedy that puts it in a class of its own Gallic genius.

Neil Sonnekus

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