Jugnot, a talented comic with a taste for provocative timeliness and lowbrow heroes, last helmed “Blue Helmet” (1994), a sendup of U.N. peacekeeping seen through the eyes of a hapless French Everyman on holiday. Here the target is religious cults, which have given France and Switzerland spectacular Jonestown-like incidents in the past few years. Jugnot wades in giggling where tragedians fear to tread.
Bernard (Jugnot), a balding middle-aged nebbish en route to the chateau of his fiancee for their wedding the next morning, stops to ask for help with his car at an isolated mountain chalet. This is what he “shouldn’t have” done, for three dozen gullible cult members are inside the chalet in the process of committing mass suicide.
Bernard barely escapes the collective immolation, in the company of feckless, brainwashed survivor Sebastien (Francois Morel). In hot pursuit are the charismatic charlatan who headed the cult (Jean Yanne) and his cretinous henchman, Solomuka (Martin Lamotte).
Pic then alternates between the ongoing insult match between Bernard and Sebastien as they foil the plottings of the devilish cult leader and his Sancho Panza, and the distraught family awaiting Bernard’s arrival at the chateau. The latter is by far the funnier, thanks to the tried-and-true brand of French social satire aimed at the moneyed classes.
Bernard’s intended, Constance (Michele Laroque), is a hysterical upper-class Frenchwoman whose father, a wine-besotted aristocrat, and mother, a reactionary prig, must put a brave face on the looming family disaster. When the villains arrive first at the chateau, pic finally takes off, and well-scripted exchanges between the protagonists confirm Jugnot’s flair for social observation and verbal class warfare.
The cast is a spirited ensemble. Laroque, as the fiancee, confirms the splendid comic touch she showed in Marion Vernoux’s “Nobody Loves Me” and Gabriel Aghion’s “What a Drag!” When Laroque is in the same frame as Lamotte, the vulgarian in league with Yanne’s hammy cult leader, we see the superlative comic potential of the two thesps. As for the other two principals, Jugnot has written himself a role of perpetual exasperation, and Morel is boxed into the constraints of playing the forever irritating dumbo.
Tech credits are good, showing evidence of a healthy budget and a variety of vigorous f/x that are still the exception in French movies. Editor Catherine Kelber keeps the comic toing-and-froing at a suitably fast pace, and lenser Gerard de Battista consistently captures the countryside, particularly in the mountains, to agreeable effect.