On the Christmas eve, a fire breaks out in a big supermarket. For this unscrupulous scrap (metal) merchant, Constant Van Loo (Bernard Giraudeau), it's an heaven-sent opportunity to get rid of his wife Annette by pretending she died in the flames whereas in reality he dropped her from the top of a big furnace. There's one unidentified corpse under the form of ashes for the police inspector Voitot (Patrick Chesnais) and Van Loo makes him believe that these remains are his wife. But they are also demanded by a horticulturist, Benoît (Ticky Holgado) who like Van Loo killed his wife. The two men start to get on well together while Voitot flanked by an ambitious female colleague starts to clarify the affair.
Peter Kassovitz, Mathieu's father located his grim story in an industrial scenery in the northern France and reinforced its gritty tonality with a quite dour cinematography. But he also plays on the contrast when he films the sequences dealing with Benoît's lovely house and greenhouse shot in clear lights. Black humor emanating from this story is kept low-key but perennial throughout the film. I particularly like the first minutes during which the director just has to show a few shots to make the viewer understand that Van Loo can't put up with his wife. Afterwards and in spite of this discreet but constant bias for grisly humor and the inclusion of delightful moments, the different unifying threads of his story are shot in a little glib way and his making is a little flabby. So, laughter are too interspersed here and there. More input and precision were required from the director.
"Drôles D'Oiseaux" would be almost nothing without his threesome of great actors, especially Bernard Giraudeau. Even when a film is minor like our concerned one and by his wide acting skills, he can put it in the category of little winners. Here, he's well supported by his two partners. I particularly prefer Ticky Holgado when he's in the throes of a fit of madness. Even in these moments, his acting remains very subdued and it's all the more positive as he acts a rather neurotic man. These two actors make their monstrous characters likable and the director keeps a certain proximity with them. At last Patrick Chesnais, a big and a little overlooked French actor is also more than palatable as a lazy cop who like his two suspects doesn't seem to form a happy couple with his wife. But he will have an idea...
Although this work isn't as potent as it was supposed to be, it has the virtue of taking a lowly even gloomy background and bestowing it with touches of incongruous humor to stop it from plunging in hopeless blackness. This could make it a cousin from several English films with harsh reality social at their core and humor as a means of defense.
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