Thursday, October 18, 2012

Huppert & Poelvoorde score in Fontaine's latest delight, MY WORST NIGHTMARE

As much as I admire much of the world of French filmmaker Anne Fontaine, I am not sure I'd have believed you had you told me her latest offering would be a kind of feel-good, screwball comedy about class barriers that, in addition, would turn Isabelle Huppert into an actress seemingly born to make us laugh. No, I wouldn't have believed you. But please believe me: It's all true.

Though a number of Ms Fontaine's films (The Girl from Monaco, Coco Before Chanel) involve excursions into class differences (the director is shown at right), one of her earliest -- Dry Cleaning -- took on the attempted melding of the bourgeoisie with lower-class "artists" that proved sensual, scary and memorable. In her latest, she does it again, this time melding an haut bourgeois couple with an even lower-class jack-of-all-trades (this would be a career-defining performance by Belgian actor Benoît Poelvoorde, below, except that just about every performance this guy gives would qualify as such) and the result is as funny and frolicsome as Dry Cleaning was dark and dirty.

MY WORST NIGHTMARE is often silly and obvious but it is almost always remarkably entertaining, thanks to the smart screenplay and dialog (by Ms Fontaine and Nicolas Mercier) that keeps the initially somewhat unbelievable situation just off-kilter enough to work. Couple this to performances that do exactly the same thing (they keep surprising us and stringing us along) and you have a not-too-slick but pleasantly fast-paced almost-farce.

Along with Poelvoorde and Ms Huppert -- (above) who does her ice queen thing to a fare-thee-well before melting ever-so-slightly but quite believably as she learns to experience a new side of life -- the cast includes the ever-game, André Dussollier (below with Huppert, and recently seen in Téchiné's Unforgivable), who appears to be having the time of his life making this movie. His surprise and enjoyment are quite contagious.

The fourth wheel on this swift and svelte little contraption is an actress new to me named Virginie Efira, shown at far left, who plays the necessarily bureaucratic but kindly social worker (with quite a thing for nature and trees) who becomes involved in this little menage. Ms Efira manages to be pert and beautiful, while also appearing to possess a good deal of intelligence and originality -- an arresting combination, I must say.

Also on board are two young near-teenagers, one belonging to Huppert & Dussollier (Donatien Suner, at left, above), the other to Poelvoorde (newcomer Corentin Devroey, above, right), and their characters and situation are handled with enough care, compassion and sense to give the movie an extra lift.

The film looks good but also looks as though it was shot on video, perhaps for speed and, well, cost, of course. In any case, the whole thing adds up nicely, and while every one of the actors is working at full capacity, it is Mr. Poelvoorde's performance that makes this a don't-miss movie.

My Worst Nightmare, from Strand Releasing and running a fleet 99 minutes, opens this Friday in New York City at the Quad Cinema and on Friday, November 9, in the Los Angeles area at Laemmle's Monica 4-Plex and Playhouse 7.

Hey, Laemmle: Why won't the site for your Monica 4-Plex ever turn up for me? I can access the remainder of your theaters just fine, but not this one, and not for some weeks now....

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