A delectably offbeat little comedy about conscientious work, marital neglect and the deceptive consolation of consumerism, “Shopping” is worth paying retail for. Debuting co-scripters/helmers Philippe Boon and Laurent Brandenbourger handle their quirky material with sure hands, aided by a spot-on cast in this deadpan tale of a hardworking man and his hard-shopping wife. With its distinctly Belgian humor, this modest but solid effort is a treat for festival customers, and also warrants additional commercial exposure.
Two years after Nicole (Marie Trintignant) got hitched to Jean (Albert Dupontel), she’s seen storming out of their house as he shouts “I’m a good person! I was only doing my job!”
Action then rolls back two months. In the company of a locksmith who opens recalcitrant doors and a sweet-natured overweight cop named Eddy (Bouli Lanners), Jean works diligently as a huissier de justice — the legally mandated authority who makes an inventory of everything of value to be seized when an individual falls too deeply into debt. It’s right up there with hangman as a respected profession, but the polite and efficient Jean copes with the tragic nature of his job by convincing himself he’s performing a needed community service. However, he grows increasingly annoyed with Eddy, who enjoys extending extra compassion to each unfortunate debtor on their daily rounds.
As Jean is sterile, he and Nicole have no children. Stir-crazy Nicole would dearly love to open an antique shop and Jean would like to oblige. However, fearful of the consequences of debt he sees every day, Jean wants to pay off their house first.
Always chickening out at the cash register, Nicole suffers from a phobia about buying things as basic as groceries and shaving cream. But in the company of her husband’s good friend, George (Serge Lariviere), she soon more than overcomes her reluctance to spend money. George is a postman on flexible hours who believes his propensity for acquiring stuff he can’t actually afford makes him a “pioneer,” greasing the wheels of commerce and bringing prices down by creating demand. But when Jean drafts George into a scheme to convince Eddy to quit, matters take an unforeseen twist. Script has a wacky symmetry that satisfies.
Pic cleverly spotlights the essence of social discomfort in awkward situations. Original bits include a scene in which Jean, late for an important dinner, creates a novel solution when asked to officiate at a length-based stunt aimed at the Guinness Book of Records.
Entertainingly staged episodes — including a deadpan musical number in a shopping mall — portray George and Nicole compulsively charging up a storm. All but Nicole’s most flagrant acquisitions escape the notice of frugal, slightly oblivious Jean.
Thesps couldn’t be better, the brightly-hued widescreen lensing is crisp, and the brassy score is a nice fit. Original title translates as “little miseries.”