I was very taken with Bruno Dumont’s batshit crazy Slack Bay, which screens twice at the Siskel Center’s Chicago European Union Film Fest over the next week. A version of this review should appear at Time Out Chicago sometime before Friday.
The Chicago European Union Film Festival kicked off at the Gene Siskel Film Center on March 3 and continues until the end of the month. My best bet for the festival’s second week is also my favorite of the 14 titles I’ve previewed so far: Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay, an off-the-wall police procedural/slapstick farce that features a healthy dose of social criticism to boot. It’s a worthy follow up to Dumont’s acclaimed 2014 television mini-series Li’l Quinquin, which similarly combined a murder-mystery plot with slapstick comedy (surprising at the time given that Dumont’s previous work was noted for its marked lack of humor). While Quinquin was set in the present day and focused on a pair of incompetent police officers investigating a series of murders in a small town where racism and xenophobia are rampant, Slack Bay is set just before World War I and focuses on bumbling cops investigating a series of killings in a coastal town whose socio-economic gulf represents seemingly eternal French class divisions. As if the positive response to Quinquin has given him confidence, Dumont also successfully turns the wackiness here up to 11; Slack Bay is one of the funniest and craziest films in recent memory.
The plot concerns two families whose paths cross on France’s scenic Channel Coast: the savage, working-class Bruforts, permanent residents of “Slack Bay” who make their living from fishing and ferrying, and their opposite numbers, the Van Peteghems, aristocrats who vacation there only during the summertime. Each family is satirically shown through a grotesque, archetypal and deliberately exaggerated lens (as bloodthirsty cannibals and inbred blue-bloods, respectively) – the very lens, in other words, through which the families might subjectively view each other. Dumont’s conception of the Brufort children as all male and the Van Peteghem children as all female allows him to create a provocative dialectic between “barbarism” and “civilization.” This class divide between the families is only bridged when the sexually ambiguous Billie Van Peteghem (Raph), a girl who disguises herself as a boy, attracts the romantic interest of the brutish “Ma Loute” Brufort (Brandon Lavieville). Plus, there’s a police inspector so corpulent that he literally has trouble standing upright (Didier Despres) and French screen legend Juliette Binoche, as an eccentric Van Peteghem aunt, performing in a more cartoonish register than you’ve ever seen her.
Slack Bay screens on Saturday, March 11 and Thursday, March 16. For more info visit the Siskel Center’s website.