Bruno Dumont has been behind several profound, bleak dramas across his career, culminating in his most recent directorial outing Camille Claudel 1915. Yet the Frenchman now returns to the silver screen with a playful, farcical endeavour that is stylistic in a comparable way to the films of Wes Anderson. But fear not, the filmmaker maintains his dark edge, similarly, in that regard, to British sitcom The League of Gentleman. Though a hybrid between the two, it’s hard not to feel such a description oversells this endeavour somewhat, as while an indelible cinematic experience, it’s undoubtedly a flawed one.
Set in the summer of 1910, we delve into the lives of two socially contrasting families in a small beachside resort. There are the affluent, extravagant Van Peteghem’s, a group of degenerates visiting their holiday home, with André (Fabrice Luchini) and Aude (Juliette Binoche) getting unwittingly caught up in the recent stream of vanishing tourists. Inspector duo Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux) and Machin (Didier Després) link the mystery to the area known as Slack Bay, where the Bruforts reside, including teenager Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville) who starts dating Billie Van Peteghem (Raph), much to everybody else’s dismay and confusion.
The absurd, off-the-wall approach serves this tale well too, and allows Dumont much licence to do whatever he pleases. Whether it be the fact characters seem to perpetually fall over, this haphazard nature allows for the film to go in any direction it wants to, to be as over-the-top as it can, and this tone and freedom is established from the offset. Guess in this case, however, it’s not a matter of whether or not Dumont takes such a licence, it’s how much he does, and in this case, he can become a little too unrelenting in that regard.
But it’s enjoyable to indulge in a farce of this nature, one that thrives in being overtly surrealistic, and gloriously slapstick. There’s even a nod to Laurel & Hardy in the two inspectors, but this is emblematic of a film that is somewhat gimmicky, and given this feature surpasses two hours (and needlessly so), it’s a struggle to sustain this particular approach, and regrettably tedium does strike as we approach the latter stages.
Slack Bay is released on June 16th.