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Watched: 27 November

Bruno Dumont is very much a Marmite filmmaker, and though I’ve only seen this and P’tit Quinquin so far, I already feel confident enough to say that I really like his style and I find his offbeat sense of humour which is probably as distinctive as any director from the country since the emergence of Caro and Jeunet, or Carax very funny indeed. This latest film, like Quinquin, is set along France’s north coast, in Normandy, and although this is a period piece there are plenty of other things that connect it with that earlier mini-series, not least in the way that its sudden bursts of farce and slapstick sit uneasily next to several rather nasty and serious events that suggest a rotten, malfunctioning society and intolerance of those who may be on the margins of it merely because of their race or gender.
Slack Bay‘s story is concerned with the disappearances of numerous tourists who are staying in a small, rural community, and it’s also about the relationship between two different families: one a poor brood of boatmen and fishermen, the other a rich, patronising bunch from the city who are visiting the area and staying in a large summer house. The two central characters a young boatman named Ma Loute and a holidaying transgender character named Billie are played and depicted in a straightforward, serious fashion, but Dumont’s film lingers in the mind because of the outlandish, over-the-top performances that surround the pair and their brief romance: Didier Després and Cyril Rigaux as a pair of Laurel and Hardy-style (or Thomson and Thompson-esque) detectives from Calais, who seem to fall up and down the sand-dunes while investigating the disappearances, Juliette Binoche as the wealthy family’s flouncy, hysterical aunt and Fabrice Luchini as her brother, a man with a pronounced gait and a general air of befuddlement about the world around him. The director’s sympathies seem to be with the locals, overall, which is quite incredible given certain revelations in the plot, though the film’s most brutal moment of violence, which occurs during the final act, rips that particular rug from under the feet. Dumont has populated another fascinating film with imperfect and interesting characters, it’s beautifully shot, and though I can see why people might be put off by its distinctive, odd tone I enjoyed it very much. (****)


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