Director: Bruno Dumont
Year of release: 2017
Running time: 2 hours 2 minutes
French writer-director Bruno Dumont has specialized in a very specific brand of art-house miserablism for years; trafficking in severe narratives which revel in provocative and often grotesque imagery. 2014's Lil Quinquin seemingly bucked this trend by adopting a comedic bent to his very controlled style; with slapstick pratfalls and mugging performances running rampant over a macabre murder mystery plot. With his latest madcap creation, Slack Bay, Dumont leans even further into arch physical comedy and baroque social critique in a way which will both delight and baffle audiences.
Playing like an Agatha Christie murder mystery with a cast of grimacing, gawking, socially oblivious buffoons stumbling around, Slack Bay works in a very deliberate way where Dumont weds his exacting formalism to flights of fancy and absurdist satire. At times, the film suggest Buñuel by way of Monty Python, but Dumont doesn't cut the action frenetically and the humor is so peculiar that many will find it off-putting. The film's three central groups; the wealthy inbred Van Peteghem family, the poor laborer clan the Bruforts, and the law enforcement duo of inspectors, are basically on hand to symbolize exaggerated versions of class differences.
Ultimately, both the rich and poor are distorted manifestations of bureaucratic control and social norms, with the main joke seeming to be the inescapable pull of "eating the rich", if only the ones doing the eating were somehow above reproach. Characters roll down hillsides, careen off chairs, make silly faces with silly walks and engage in silly conversations. Juliet Binoche shows up as a rich aristocrat and engages in some of the most shrill over-acting this side of late period Johnny Depp. There's blood, body parts, and a quasi-romance between a poor ferrymen and a gender-shifting member of the elite. All the while, Dumont manages to place the camera (with sublime assistance from cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines’s widescreen compositions) in such a way as to inspire awe.
For all of its farcical underpinnings, Slack Bay is an often gorgeous-looking film; with one particular moment of psychics-defying magical realism edging toward territory worthy of Fellini. If anything, it once again finds everyone's favorite French enfant terrible in a wily, rib-tickling mood.