by Bénédicte Prot
- A breath of fresh air and offbeat humour in French duo Benoit Delépine and Gustave de Kervern’s new film, unveiled in competition at Berlin and starring Gérard Depardieu on top form
The Berlinale competition screening of Mammuth [+see also:
interview: Gustave Kervern, Benoî…
film profile] arrived like a breath of fresh air, greeted by peals of laughter all round. This is the fourth feature co-directed by Benoit Delépine and Gustave Kervern, the creators of offbeat TV sketch show Groland, who helmed Louise-Michel [+see also:
interview: Benoît Delépine and Gustave…
interview: Benoît Jaubert
film profile] and claim that their cinematic approach is greatly influenced by Aki Kaurismaki.
Mammuth, written for Gérard Depardieu, sees the great actor abandon his famous verve to subtly and generously portray a gentle big bear of a character with a Viking-like mane of hair. He takes retirement and is bored stiff at first. Then, in order to top up his pension, he has to get on his old motorbike (a Mammuth, whence his nickname) to go and collect the pay slips from all the small-time jobs he has done during his working life (from bouncer to ham expert and grave-digger).
The tone at the start of the film is one of offbeat comedy, superbly dished up by Yolande Moreau, hilarious as usual in the role of the wife who wears the trousers for her fool of a husband. Viewers laugh until they cry at the humour, which is not blatant or crudely farcical: here the directors manage to pinpoint the very type of absurd situations that provoke fits of giggles.
However, as the story (which continues to churn out sketches that are both hilarious and superb) unfolds, while Mammuth travels across France into his past, the film – shot mainly in reversible Super-16 – becomes tinged with a certain nostalgia, poeticised by the presence of Isabelle Adjani as the ghost of the hero’s first love. His encounter with a third woman, his niece Miss Ming (played by the poetess of the same name), a sort of female Facteur Cheval figure, who is resolutely unconventional and sees the world through tender and poetic eyes, will have a liberating effect: Mammuth understands that all he needs to do now is just "be".
Mammuth derives its infinite tenderness and joy from its highly personal nature. As Depardieu explained to journalists, as well as drawing inspiration from his own father’s simple and humble life, he himself identified greatly with his character, whose life and accomplishments are behind him so that all he has left to do is be and love. This generous work manages somehow to have viewers splitting their sides with laughter, with their hand on their heart, a cinematic acrobatics that also reflects the mischievous approach of its directors, as well as their skilfulness.
Indeed, the other brilliantly accomplished feat is that despite (or in addition to) the film’s powerful comic impact, Delépine and Kervern offer us a truly "artistic" work (as Depardieu emphasised at the remarkably light-hearted and enjoyable press conference which really lifted the spirits of all those in attendance), one that has elements of Dadaism and is perfectly structured in its fresh and liberating zaniness.
(Translated from French)
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