Review: ‘News from the Good Lord’

Didier Le Pecheur makes a smashing debut as a feature filmmaker with "News From the Good Lord," an ingeniously clever black comedy that should delight festgoers and arthouse patrons. Adapted from Le Pecheur's own novel, pic skillfully sustains a tone of deadpan absurdism and always remains true to its bizarre internal logic as it races from one outrageous event to the next.

Didier Le Pecheur makes a smashing debut as a feature filmmaker with “News From the Good Lord,” an ingeniously clever black comedy that should delight festgoers and arthouse patrons. Adapted from Le Pecheur’s own novel, pic skillfully sustains a tone of deadpan absurdism and always remains true to its bizarre internal logic as it races from one outrageous event to the next.

The freewheeling weirdness begins when a noted author commits suicide by driving his car into a brick wall — just like the protagonist in his last novel. Evangila (Marie Trintignant), a cynical cab driver, and North (Christian Charmetant), her brother, are deeply affected by the death of their favorite author. The more they think about it, the more they are certain that the writer was rebelling against the growing certainty that he was merely a character in someone else’s novel.

From that, it’s only a short leap for Evangila and North to decide that they, too, are characters in someone else’s novel. Nothing they do makes any difference, they decide, because nothing is real. So if they choose to run over a pedestrian or kill someone while robbing a drug store — which they do — the crimes will have no consequence whatsoever.

Meanwhile, back at the late author’s home, Karenina (Maria de Medeiros), his grieving widow, yearns to join her husband in death. Unfortunately, every time she tries to commit suicide, someone — usually a handsome fireman (Dany Brillant) — manages to save her. Frustrated, she heads for a bridge, hoping to make a fatal leap into the river.

Speaking of leaps, Evangila and North continue to leap to conclusions, and they decide that the author of the novel in which they exist is no less a creative entity than God. So they barge in on a priest, Father Zhivago (Michel Vuillermoz), and demand that he introduce them to their Creator. “We want certainties!” North proclaims. “We’re tired of unanswered questions!”

Zhivago can’t help them, but he suggests that they ask someone who’s about to die to carry a message to God. So they drive to a nearby bridge, figuring they’ll encounter a would-be suicide there. And that’s where they encounter — yes, you guessed it — Karenina. And then things get really weird, as a spiritualist (Serge Riaboukine) and God Almighty (Jean Yanne) figure into the plot.

Le Pecheur evidences a flawless sense of timing and a twisted sense of humor as he keeps his pic moving at top speed. Better still, his actors are in total sync with his eccentric comic vision.

Trintignant (whose cigarettes-and-whiskey voice remains one of the sexiest sounds in contemporary French cinema) and Charmetant are standouts in the strong ensemble cast. As the seductively charismatic — and quite possibly incestuous — North and Evangila, they display the perfect mix of cool logic, intense emotion and slow-simmering sex appeal.

Jean-Louis Negro’s spirited music complements the pic’s anything-can-happen mood. Other tech credits are first-rate.

News from the Good Lord

(FRENCH-SWISS-PORTUGUESE)

Production

A President Films presentation of a Program 33 production in association with M6 Films, GER and Cinemanufacture. Produced by Frabrice Coat. Directed, written by Didier Le Pecheur, based on his novel.

Crew

Camera (color), Gerard Simon; editor, Sylvie Landra; music, Jean-Louis Negro; art direction, Jean-Jacques Gernolle; costumes, Brigitte Calvet, Marie Calvet; sound (Dolby), Vasco de Pimentel. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 17, 1996. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Evangila ... Marie Trintignant Karenina ... Maria de Medeiros North ... Christian Charmetant Edwarda ... Isabelle Candelier Zhivago ... Michel Vuillermoz God ... Jean Yanne Rothaargie ... Florence Thomassin Salambo ... Artus de Penguern Spiritualist ... Serge Riaboukine Fireman ... Dany Brillant Paramedic ... Mathieu Kassovitz
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