In “No Exit,” Jean-Paul Sartre posited, “hell is other people”; in “The Landlords,” writer-helmer Remi Waterhouse amends that to, “hell is other shareholders in your co-op.” Weaving in and out of the annual meeting of unit-owners in a medium-sized Parisian apartment block, pic is a modestly scaled but scathing portrait of petty behavior that should find favor at fests.
After his sardonic two-hander “I Model My Footsteps on Those of My Father,” film is the second outing behind the camera by Waterhouse, who scripted “Ridicule.” Here, he trains his powers of observation on young and old, married and single, gay and straight, flush and poor, tenants and concierge.
Centered on a room full of people, ensembler has negligible narrative thrust, but entertains at a steady low-key pace as, via flashbacks and flashforwards spliced into the ongoing meeting, pic looks in on the lives of half a dozen residents. Manner in which time is being juggled is not immediately apparent; but comparisons of how the same individuals behave separately and in the group are telling.
Residents may live “together,” but generosity and camaraderie are in short supply. Lovebird neighbors (Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Valerie Stroh) seek permission to connect their separate apartments after 15 years, but are turned down flat. Pre-Christmas, officious residents baldly lament the homeless men who come to the courtyard-based charity for warm clothing.
In addition, there’s a cost-cutting plot to replace the Portuguese concierge (Luis Rego) with an anonymous cleaning service. A recent widow who’s fallen behind in her maintenance payments receives no favors; and voters remain divided on the merits of installing an elevator. Residents decry the insistence of elderly Mme. Chartreux (Suzanne Flon, adorable) on using her ancient gas stove.
Standout perfs include Patrick Chesnais as a morose gay in search of a new vocation and Wladimir Yordanoff as the building manager who presides over the meeting with crisp condescension and feigned concern. Lensing makes the most of the small cafe setting, but pic’s overall structure and editing will strike some viewers as an interesting experiment, and others as needlessly confusing. Film ends rather abruptly.