Rien sur Robert (1999)
(Nothing about Robert)
Director: Pascal Bonitzer
Cast: Fabrice Luchini, Sandrine Kiberlain,
Valentina Cervi, Michel Piccoli.
A Parisian journalist, Didier (Fabrice Luchini) absolutely pans a Serbian film, which, he has not even bothered to see, calling it “fascist propaganda”. From here on his life takes a crazy downward spiral. He also finds out that his girlfriend Juliette (Sandrine Kiberlain) is having an affair. Then as a favour, Didier attends a dinner party where he meets a man that he is sure is hounding him. The party’s host (Michel Piccoli) challenges him as do all of the guests for his arrogant and ignorant critique of said Serbian film.
Whilst trying to leave the party Didier meets Aurélie (Valentina Cervi) the stepdaughter of the host, who tells him that she was a recent “S.A.” and is being hidden out of the way while the party is going on. Aurélie on cue removes her clothes for Didier, after which he is promptly removed from the party.
Didier and Aurélie begin a relationship. He forms a friendship with his friendly neighbourhood stalker, and lowers himself willingly into an unsympathetic pit of masochism by asking Juliette for all the painful details of her affairs.
Ah, the discreet harm of the bourgeoisie! Didier is selfish, arrogant, obnoxious, paranoid, obsessed and masochistic. He perfectly deserves Juliette, with her appropriately Sadean name, which fits her perfectly. She is as selfish as Didier, whimsical, and relishes throwing her torrid affairs in his face.
With all this going on we could think that this would be a depressing film, but we would be wrong. It is in fact the complete opposite. It is a good black comedy, centred of course on the enjoyment of the character’s misfortunes. But what makes it funny and not painful, is that some of us may recognise some of the characters dysfunctions. And with a distance or an analytical eye, can laugh at them with the knowledge that a some of us have went through or known such dysfunctions, hopefully some time in our distant past.
Juliette’s attempted seduction of a TV documentary director, gets a funny and a well-deserved rebuttal for such a whimsical act. And can be seen to be an insight to the fact that all that follows does not quite go according to plan.
Didier attends the dinner, the hosts of which were supposed to be informed of his attendance, but were not. And for a while at this dinner it feels like he has been set up to attend a “Dîner de cons”, (a dinner for idiots, where the French bourgeoisie invite people they think stupid, to have fun at their expense. Which is a real event!). As with the 1998 Francis Veber film of the same name. But unfortunately, unlike Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1962), the dinner guests are not confined to that house! Didier’s meeting of the only true innocent in the film (despite her exclamations to the contrary) Aurélie, looks like she could be his saving grace. But after Aurélie’s “S.A II” Didier is attacked by her witch-finder stepfather, while he himself of course keeps Aurélie innocently locked away upstairs, anytime their are guests in the house!
Viewing what looks to be like another assault on his person, Didier tries to conduct the end of the movie. Trying to change what is about to transpire by making his protests heard, as if he was editing the end of a novel, or playing the part of an obsessive, petulant film director, unhappy with what he is seeing compared to what his minds eye sees.
The entire cast does a great job in portraying characters that are almost utterly detestable. Once you get past the first agonizing 20 minutes of wanting to slap their faces, and once you get the feel for who they are, you settle into the comedy of their situations, trying to predict what terrible, hilarious thing can go wrong for Didier next.
Review By Giovanni Pistachio.
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