Short and sweet, with quirky appeal to spare, “Augustin” blends a memorable comic perf from professional thesp Jean-Chretien Sibertin-Blanc with perky turns by non-pros who are employees of a Paris insurance firm. Offbeat story, about a stutter-prone and tic-laden bit player who hasn’t the slightest idea that he’s a walking one-man comedy act, gets a Gallic release June 14 and should travel nicely to offshore fests and TV.
Augustin (Sibertin-Blanc) is a literal-minded oddball of Portuguese heritage who, thanks to his obvious sincerity and unshakable dignity, is humored by everyone he encounters. When not auditioning for commercials and industrial films, Augustin diligently handles the “brain-dead” claims at an insurance company.
Winningly droll opening sequence establishes Augustin’s extensive range of quirks and foibles as he solemnly recounts his deeply silly acting credits to a very patient casting agent. Pic sustains a sense of expectation and elicits a steady stream of chuckles as Augustin embarks on pathetically earnest field research for a possible role as a room service waiter in a four-star hotel. Extended sequence during which he helps a chambermaid from Shanghai (real-life chambermaid Stephanie Zhang) clean a mirror and make a bed is a bittersweet tour de force.
Unencumbered by any grasp of social hierarchy, Augustin routinely launches into unsolicited commentaries, replete with hesitations and rectifications, that would be maddening if they weren’t so amusing.
Segment in which Augustin reads a scene with real-life French leading man Thierry Lhermitte is a gem. Helmer Anne Fontaine — whose freshman outing, “Les histoires d’amour finissent mal en general” (Love Affairs Tend to End Badly), won the Prix Jean Vigo at Cannes in ’93 — kept Lhermitte and Sibertin-Blanc apart until their partially improvised onscreen encounter. Lhermitte’s bemusement appears to be absolutely authentic.
Summery lensing is fluid and unobtrusive. Modest production was wrapped in 10 shooting days.