Topped by a wonderful performance from the now-veteran Andre Dussollier as a 50-year-old Lothario who meets his match in a weirdo waitress, “Ouch” is a chamber-scaled but delightful comedy of manners that deserves a modest festival afterlife in the hands of imaginative distribs looking for fresh, upscale fare. Far better than writer-director Sophie Fillieres’ somber first feature, “Grande petite” (1994), pic only loses its assurance in a strange final reel.
From his first, slightly klutzy entrance, Dussollier constructs a memorable, off-kilter character in Robert, a dapper 50-year-old who’s a bag of scarcely concealed neuroses but who simply can’t stop himself coming on to women. Dragged to a hospital by his sister to see the baby of her friend Claire (Emmanuelle Devos), Robert realizes that he’s still in love with Claire — an old g.f. — especially when she tells him one of her baby’s names is his.
This first scene sets the comic tone of the whole movie, with dialogue that’s peppered with absurdist remarks delivered in the most offhand way, and played with a calm assurance (especially by Devos) that never tips over into outright comedy.
Robert is mortified by his self-discovery, especially as Claire has a new partner who’s the father of the child. Later, in a bistro, he gets the second shock of his life: While casually chatting up a tall, lanky young waitress, Marie-Pierre (helmer’s sister Helene Fillieres, terrific), who’s on her lunch break, she suddenly offers to fall in love with him, make him feel special, and give him the whole nine yards of a love affair. On an impulse, Robert accepts.
The somewhat shy Marie-Pierre turns out to be seriously out-there. Nicknamed Aie (French for “Ouch!”) by her family, she tells Robert that she regularly throws up everything she eats, has to pretend she’s gone to take a shower when she does, and (because her breath stinks afterward) she carries around a supply of airline toothbrushes that her pilot father gives her.
After a subsequent encounter, even Robert’s hormones start to send cautionary messages to his brain, and he breaks off their deal.
However, when first Aie and then he turn up without warning at Claire’s apartment, and end up hiding in the closet together when Claire’s partner comes home, the two resume their arrangement. Then, on an overnight visit to Aie’s parents — who are as loopy as she is — Robert ends up sharing her bedroom, where Aie imparts some even weirder news about her background.
Pic is almost all in the performances which, if they hadn’t jelled or managed to tune into Fillieres’ off-center dialogue, would have been left stranded, especially in a movie that is basically a series of conversation pieces. Fillieres’ visual style is simple and unadorned, with sharp sunny lensing by Christophe Pollock. Michel Portal’s quietly decorative underscoring nudges things along.
Ending, that veers off into the realm of semi-fantasy, is a tad unsatisfying after the grounded comedy of the rest of the picture. But it’s the only false step this unique little gem makes.