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Film review: Slack Bay – ultra-austere French director Bruno Dumont returns with a surreal slap in the face

Baffling, head-scratching, left field for an already left-field filmmaker, many viewers will be left slack-jawed by this tale, set 100 years ago, about bungling detectives on the hunt for human-flesh eaters

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 9:59am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 9:59am

2/5 stars

The ultra-austere French director Bruno Dumont (Flanders, L’humanité) returns with what feels like a surreal slap in the face. You might call it Cannibal Holocaust meets Jacques Tati, though really most descriptions don’t get to grips with Slack Bay, a period crime caper with outré performances and bizarre humour. Even the members of Monty Python might find this weird.

The story is set on the northern French coast, circa 1910; the disappearance of several people leads to an investigation by two bungling, bowler-hatted police inspectors, Machin and Malfoy (Didier Despres and Cyril Rigaux). So large is Machin, he rolls down the sand dunes like a beach ball and later – quite literally – floats away. It doesn’t take long before the audience is wise to the perpetrators of these crimes: the human-hungry Brufort clan.

Flashback: Bruno Dumon’s Camille Claudel 1915 (2013)

A part of this family of flesh-eaters is the 18 year-old Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville), a callow youth who helps his father (Thierry Lavieville, Brandon’s real-life patriarch) ferry wealthy patrons across a stretch of water. The rich tourists include Fabrice Luchini’s hunchback and his shrill sister Aude (Juliette Binoche), whose eccentric, caricatured turn is matched only by her flamboyant costumes.

With romance brewing between Ma Loute and one of the tourists, the humour ranges from absurdist to circus-like pratfalls, though it’s too affected to be really funny. The dialogue is full of antiquated French phrases and it’s wildly over-the-top. Credit Dumont for this left-field turn from an already left-field career, but Slack Bay is like a baffling seaside postcard that will leave most scratching their heads.

Slack Bay opens on January 12

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