DIR/WRI: Bruno Dumont • PRO: Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Brehat, Muriel Merhan • DOP: Guillaume Deffontaines • ED: Basille Belkheri • DES: Riton Dupire-Clement• CAST: Fabrice Luchini, Juliette Binoche, Valeria Bruni Tredeschi, Didier Despres, Brandon Lavievelle, Raph, Cyril Rigaux
In 1910 France, two bumbling policemen – Despres and Rigaux – investigate a series of disappearances of tourists on the beaches of the Channel Coast. The reason for the disappearances is that of the cannibalistic Brufort family, oyster farmers who reside near the Slack Bay. The eldest Brufort son, the teenaged Ma Loute (Lavievelle), then sparks up a romance with the gender-fluid Billie (Raph), son/daughter of the bourgeois Van Peteghem family, who are staying in their summer mansion that lies up above the bay.
Bruno Dumont carries on his jolting journey from the maker of austere, cerebral dramas to full-blown slapstick with this curious, formally accomplished, deeply irritating film. The film attempts to juxtapose extremely heightened, broad farce with social satire in a period setting along with dark subject matters such as cannibalism and incest.
It’s beautifully shot by Guillaume Deffontaines, Alexandra Charles’ costume design is richly evocative and the sound design is brilliantly realised. It’s a shame then that the butts of the films jokes are as cheap as they are, the punchlines so repetitive and that the film is so lacking in anything approaching wit. The pitch of the comedy on show can be exemplified by the fact that almost every scene in which the clownish policeman feature ends with them falling over. Dumont also seems to take particular delight in poking fun at senior detective’s weight problems. Classy.
Despite the puerile humour on offer, the formal qualities of the film command a certain amount of interest in its earlier parts but as it progresses, the incessant mugging of the performers becomes utterly grating. Dumont encourages the actors to turn their respective caricatures to a volume-level that would make those in something like Killinaskully seem like the height of restraint in comparison. Binoche is particularly insufferable in what is easily, and by some distance, her worst ever performance.
The Bruforts and Billie are allowed a little bit more subtlety in their performances, but this contrast is hardly insightful if intended as social commentary and Dumont’s satire of bourgeois mores amounts to nothing more than banging the viewers head repeatedly until they simply cannot take any more. The relationship between the brutish Ma Loute and the confused, curious Billie, like most other things in the film, doesn’t go quite the way one expects, but nor does it add up to anything meaningful or engaging.
The film has the odd interesting loose-end, uses music unpredictably and it is properly grotesque in places, such as the first scene in which we see the Brufort family chewing on the various limbs and body parts of their victims. These all too infrequent flashes aside and despite the picture’s considerable formal values, the film ultimately adds up to little more than an inane endurance test.
While the trajectory of Dumont’s career remains interesting in how stark the shift in his style has become, this baffling oddity marks something of an embarrassing low-point.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Slack Bay is released 16th June 2017