Slack Bay [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (2nd September 2017).
The Film

"Slack Bay" is a serious art house film that is seriously wrong. Madcap is the only word that I can think that sufficiently captures the inherent madness that is on the screen. Only the films of, say, Guy Maddin comes close to this tribute to cinematic zaniness. Combining elements of French farce, the detective genre, cannibalism and interbreeding, Bruno Dumont serves up a heady stew of melodrama, darkly comic moments, and simply bizarre on goings. There is an absurdist streak throughout this film and the slapstick elements are turned up high; the excessively rotund chief detective Alfred Machin (Didier Després) is repeatedly defeated by own weight, as he rolls down sand dunes, collapses when bending down to examine a crime scene, and succumbs to various pratfalls like silent film star Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle did years ago. He is accompanied by his assistant, Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux) he being the exact opposite of his partner; they resemble a pair of Laurel and Hardy lookalikes, complete in black suits and bowler hats. The two policemen are investigating a rash of local disappearances that have been affecting the vacationing clientele from the local villages. Who or what has been attacking the vacationing upper classes? Will the rotund chief get to the bottom of the mystery? Keep watching.

The drama at hand focuses on the arrival of the Van Peteghem’s clan for their annual summer retreat at the French coastline in the year 1910 and their encounters with the locals of the surrounding environs. The Van Peteghem’s party consists of the eccentric father Andre (Fabrice Luchini), he of apparent hunched back and wobbly knees, his high strung, slightly hysterical wife, Isabelle (Valerie Bruni-Tedeschi) and their two misbehaving daughters, Blanche and Gabby; they are accompanied by Andre’s sister, Aude (Juliette Binoche) and her daughter/son Billie (Raph); a gender bending teen. Is it a she in disguise as a boy or vice versa? I’m not telling either as this is all part of the upside down world that Dumont has created.

There is a clash of cultures almost immediately as at the start of the film we are introduced to the Brufort clan, the hardiest of the oyster gathering families, with their blue matching sweaters and air of weary resignation. Clearly there are purely the bottom rung of the working class proletariat that live nearby and they earn their living by physically transporting visitors for mere pennies across the shallow bay at high tide by physically picking them up and carrying them through the water. This group consists of father, called The Eternal (Thierry Lavieville) and his real life son, Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville) a disdainful, spitting distant eyed teen. The duo resides with The Eternal’s wife and Ma Loute’s three shrill bickering offspring in a worn out house by the sea. At first we do not know what to make of these brutes, but Dumont is in no hurry with the details, letting the two families co-exist peacefully until Ma Loute carries Billy across the bay and then things begin to heat up. Soon romance is burning between the two teens, but we already can sense where this is headed: the two youths are out in a rowboat when the weather turns rough and they are lost at sea. A search party headed up by papa Brufort soon spies the once adrift couple, and they are towed back safely to shore and reunited with their families. In the meantime, the police duo are investigating the random disappearances of the tourists, but they are without many clues and are certainly lacking in common sense; Keystone Kops at the beach, perhaps? Dumont has said that he acknowledges the comedy skills of Peter Sellers, Laurel and Hardy, and Monty Python and that these comedic styles have factored into this film. It is more than apparent that the director has studied and enjoyed these examples of humorous filmmakers, but he has yielded a distinctly individual product with "Slack Bay".

The overall scenic beauty of the finished product, the way that the sun plays upon the water of the bay, the whiteness of the dunes, is all captured by the cinematography of Guillaume Deffontaines and is splendid. Dumont focuses upon a character for long takes, allowing the cast to grimace and shriek at the camera, especially Binoche’s character, which specializes in high pitched hysterics and gibbering away in high class French. The scenes where the Van Peteghem’s gather around the dinner table are especially interesting, and the separate dramas that unfold between the residents of casa Van Peteghem are most fascinating. Dysfunctional meets opulent, class struggles ensues, and both parties come across as ugly and crass. The humor works on several levels, from basic pratfalls and clumsy movements to absurd grotesques, and Dumont slyly employs a heightened sense of the ridiculous to the sublime all the while grinning like a madman. Anyone that happened to catch Dumont’s brilliant “Li’l Quinquin” (2014) on Netflix last year will be delighted to see that the director has returned to comedy once again. Highly recommended.

Video

Presented in widescreen 2.35:1 HD 1080p 24/fps mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression, this Blu-ray looks fantastic; the colors are rich and glorious, the blues and reds are impressive. The natural light is excellent and this is a fine looking product.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included, French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and French DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo, the 5.1 surround track at 48kHz/24-bit in the original French language and the dialogue is crisp and clear. Not much in special effects audio but the focus is on the dialogue. Optional subtitles are included in English.

Extras

Kino Lorber has included only a small selection of supplements.

Interview with Juliette Binoche (8:09).

Interview with Bruno Dumont (3:36).

There's also a theatrical trailer (1:53).

Overall

For fans of the offbeat and foreign, "Slack Bay" is full of surprises. An oddball film filled with grotesque characters, but it is all too clear that they are the director’s grotesques and that he clearly loves them. Visually fascinating and distinctive.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-

 


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