Slack Bay, written and directed by the enfant terrible, Bruno Dumont, is a highly idiosyncratic comedy, set in 1910, that revolves around two families. The Bruforts are working class fishers, and the Van Peteghems are the aristocrats. The sounds of the Van Peteghems range from shrill to shouty, and their movements seem right out of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.
Others in the region look equally ridiculous. The local inspector, Alfred Machin (Didier Després), an oversized man, literally rolls down a sand dune to get to a crime scene. When he walks, it sounds like two balloons being rubbed together. (The film’s sound design is outstanding). Throughout the film, various characters do slapstick-y pratfalls, and there are surreal visual gags involving characters flying and floating through the air.
Machin and his colleague Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux) are investigating the disappearance of several tourists in Slack Bay. Audiences are clued in during the first reel as to what happened to the missing men and women, and Dumont plays the “shocking” revelation for dark laughs. The film is also quite hilarious as various characters get wacked in the head with different objects.
Slack Bay depicts the unexpected attraction that develops between Ma Loute Brufort (Brandon Lavieville) and Billie Van Peteghem (the mono monikered actress, Raph). He takes her out to sea one day, which causes her highly-strung mother Aude (Juliette Binoche), much consternation. Billie also likes to dress as a boy, which does not go unnoticed by anyone.
But nevermind. Dumont is less concerned with the story and more focused on being a boisterous satire on class and manners. The working classes come across better than the upper class, but that’s only because all the bourgeois are absolute twits.
Binoche is wickedly funny as Aude, hamming it up air-kissing her brother André (Fabrice Luchini) and sister in law Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), fainting, or wailing (loudy, hysterically) at a shrine on the beach during a Procession of the Virgin. Even a scene of Binoche vigorously chewing tiny piece of meat is high comedy.
Dumont often films not just Binoche but most of his characters in extreme close-up to wring both humor and emotion from their rubber faces. All of the performers seem to enjoy going over-the-top, or even beyond that, if possible. Luchini’s spastic gait and Bruni Tedeschi’s pinched body language are superb. Likewise, the soulful Lavieville and the beautiful Raph are incredibly expressive performers, which is why their relationship seems to matter amid all the silliness.
Slack Bay is sure to annoy anyone not attuned to its supreme folly, but for those who appreciate its wacky rhythms, Dumont’s film is an absolute delight.
Slack Bay opens in Philly theaters today.
Author: Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer. He is the co-editor of Directory of World Cinema: Argentina. Volumes 1 and 2, and teaches seminars at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.