Review: Unsophisticated Lady
- Antonin Peretjatko delivers a subtle, quietly crazy and socially biting comedy dressed up as a seemingly flippant yet highly entertaining vaudeville movie
"Someone in a Rolls Royce is marrying someone who rides the subway". The frontier separating social classes, protected by the barbed wire of culture and elitist pikes and put-downs which have been set in the ground out of a wild desire to maintain self-segregation; relations of power, attraction, enslavement and domination at a time when money rules supreme; difficulties in (if not outright, principled rejection of) accepting others and, inversely, in finding one’s own place in society when two social worlds come together… In his new film Unsophisticated Lady [+see also:
film profile], released in French cinemas today by Diaphana, the highly original Antonin Peretjatko (revealed at the 2013 Directors’ Fortnight via The Rendez-Vous of Déjà Vu [+see also:
film profile]) is continuing his tendency to undermine right-thinking, hypocritical, ossified codes and societal status quo, with humour.
Without renouncing his freedom to mock convention (with brutally casual kindness), the filmmaker has nonetheless chosen, in this instance, to slow down the frenetic pace and unbridled comedy which characterised his first two feature films, Struggle for Life [+see also:
film profile] (2016) in particular. It’s a somewhat relative deceleration, however, because the director’s rebellious spirit still burns as strongly as ever, this time concealed beneath a more relaxed and restrained form (consisting of a voiceover, flashbacks, calmer shots, etc.) dotted with tiny, subtle yet amusing details and disguised as a traditional genre (vaudeville; in this instance an adaptation of Noëlle Renaude’s stage play Il faut un héritier). And what seems, on the surface, to be an innocent and classic cinematic jaunt revolving around an awful mother-in-law - the perfect caricature of the business bourgeoisie as she tries to torpedo her only son’s wedding to a girl of the people - is actually quite the contrary.
It’s a straightforward story: pure chance leads pretty Ava (Anaïs Demoustier) to cross paths with Paul Château-Têtard (Philippe Katerine), the idle offspring of a line of entrepreneurs who made their fortune in elevators and wheeled suitcases. They fall in love, much to the disgust of "Queen Mother" Adelaïde (Josiane Balasko) who rules with an iron fist over the 16th arrondissement Paris mansion where the young couple set up home, and where chauffeur Raoul (Spain’s Sergi Lopez) and housekeeper Conchita (Jocelyne Augier) also reside. Stuck in a wheelchair ever since her hunting accident, the family head leads a covert turf and social conventions war against Ava, and even hires a private detective (from an agency directed by Philippe Duquesne) to catch her daughter-in-law in the act of adultery ("the little whore just came out. We’ve got her"). But things become complicated when Jérôme (William Lebghil) - who’s supposed to be trailing her - falls in love with the adventurous Ava, who decides to escape the boredom of life in a golden cage…
Over the course of its many twists and turns, the film paints a light-hearted, funny and acerbic portrait of the privileged classes’ habits and customs: boat trips and sorbets, strict codes governing one’s bearing and language, a business world which noisily celebrates the abolition of inheritance tax, peddling the trickle-down theory, striking unscrupulous deals with dictators ("there’s nothing illegal about it", "regimes like this don’t hinder entrepreneurial freedom") and dabbling in tax evasion and poisonous class ostracism ("what if she had the poverty gene!"); it’s a society where everyone risks losing their place and turns the other cheek in the face of inequality to instead focus their attentions on consumer pleasures, etc. Add a sprinkling of "nigh-on cartoonesque" and outrageously funny moments (hiding in a double bass case, turning oneself into a robot in order to walk again…), alongside perfect actors, immaculate set design and costumes, a sophisticated narrative structure where one door closes and another opens, leading to an avalanche of lies, and you have an extremely gratifying feature film in a playful, soap bubble style.
(Translated from French)
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