The 2017 Chicago European Union Film Festival – Part 4

Every year in the month of March, the Gene Siskel Film Center hosts the Chicago European Union Film Festival. I’ll give capsule reviews of as many of the films as I can. All films are shown at the Film Center, 164 N. State Street, right across State St. from the Chicago Theater. See you there!

Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.

Slack Bay 4

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi in “Slack Bay.” credit: Kino Lorber

Never let it be said that French director Bruno Dumont doesn’t deliver the goods. I first encountered his work with Hadewijch in 2009 and Hors Satan in 2011, both of which are rigorous examinations of public morality, personal spirituality, private disciplines and how people are shaped, or betrayed, by insular communities. 2014’s L’il Quinquin pulls away from the focus on individual trials and tribulations and spreads out to examine a particular culture – provincial rural France, north, near Calais (the director’s own childhood haunts), but culturally and psychologically removed from any standard idea we might have of it. Dumont’s conceptions aren’t too far from David Lynch’s; it all looks familiar, even homey, but when conversations start and plots thicken something vaguely disturbing starts emerging from underneath it all. But lately, he’s been imbuing his stark and eccentric scenarios with a surprising streak of dry humor, and his newest film, Slack Bay (Ma Loute) (France, 2016), positively brims with pratfalls, slapstick, comical stereotypes, dual identities and some major-league scenery-chewing from some of the cast, while still maintaining some of the hushed mystery that lives in all his films.

So, not too far from L’il Quinquin’s milieu, there’s a bay that’s water-filled for the better part of the day, and walkable when the tide goes out, exposing the oysters and mussels that the Brufort clan then retrieve to make their modest living. Above the tiny fishing village atop a hill (with a panoramic view of the bay) is the opulent summer home of the Van Peteghems, as stuffy, snooty and twitlike as any family that might be envisioned by Monty Python or Evelyn Waugh. So imagine the delight and horror when a Brufort lad (Brandon Lavieville) takes a liking to a Van Peteghem lass (Raph). That is, if she’s a lass… but Love Will Out, right? Dumont typically uses non-professional and/or little-known talent, but has lately employed more well-known, more thoroughly-trained actors. Here it’s French pros Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Juliette Binoche lurching, hopping, dancing, stumbling, mumbling, singing, howling and even levitating as the Van Peteghem family elders. The unpredictable interactions of the two families comprise the bulk of Dumont’s intriguing, and at times quite astonishing, film, but I wouldn’t dream of revealing much more than to say that there are also a series of murders afoot, with darkly and comically inept cops on the case (a familiar Dumont motif), and that the cinematic bluenoses (you know who you are, bless ya!) may take some umbrage at the casual ways that transexuality, incest and cannibalism are insinuated into the narrative mix. For the more adventurous filmgoer, I say this is an excellent, if not challenging, film that I highly, highly recommend.

“Slack Bay” will be shown on Saturday, March 11th at 4:00 pm and Thursday, March 16th at 6:00 pm.

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