A morbidly obese policeman nibbles away at a murder case, confronting his own demons along the way in “The Over-Eater.” Moody, melancholy pic, adapted from a successful 1998 graphic novel, reps a tour-de-force for soccer ace-turned-thesp Eric Cantona, whose athletic frame has been transformed via prosthetics into a 350-pound, double-chinned blimp. Marseilles-set tale has lonely, longing atmosphere to burn and touching perfs, but stumbles in the home stretch. Despite that, it’s a consistently watchable character study-cum-whodunit that should benefit from the Cantona curiosity factor in Europe. Pic opened strongly July 16.
Police superintendent Richard Selena (Cantona) is a walking mountain of blubber. For 25 years, he’s eaten alone, stuffing his face with enough courses to sate a restaurant’s worth of ordinary diners. He walks with difficulty through the rising and falling terrain of Marseilles, panting for air.
Under the opening credits and in brief flashbacks, snippets of his boyhood suggest a tragedy that led to his current condition. Then one day, after collapsing and landing in hospital, Selena is given a year, tops, by doctors unless the strain on his heart is relieved.
Selena and fellow cop Marc (Jocelyn Quivrin) have been investigating the murder of a local shipping magnate. Selena is convinced the deceased’s niece, Elsa (Rachida Brakni), is guilty. Because she’s young and beautiful and his own days are numbered, Selena hands down his own perverse “sentence” on Elsa instead of arresting her.
Said sentence requires her to come every night, from 9-11 p.m., for one full year, to his forbidding house on a hill and watch him devour enough food to choke several horses. Elsa, a self-possessed painter who runs a modest cafe with her wheelchair-bound father (Richard Bohringer), acquiesces without explicitly admitting her guilt.
Meanwhile, the dead man’s widow (Caroline Silhol) gives Marc documents that point to one of her late husband’s sleazy associates as the likely killer. Marc agrees until he turns up some last-minute evidence to the contrary. The layers of the murder mystery fall away gradually, not unlike Selena’s excess weight as he changes his behavior in extremis.
Cantona, who shows convincing body language, Brakni (“Chaos”) and Silhol are all excellent. Framing and cutting subtly evoke the manner in which comic book panels convey information. But it is far easier to accept Cantona as a seamless blubbery lug — a nude shot of Selena’s rolls of fat is particularly convincing — than it is to take satisfaction in pic’s denouement, which plays on the theme of Beauty & the Beast.
For the record, Tonino Benacquista, one of the graphic novel’s authors, co-wrote the screenplay to Jacques Audiard’s crime drama “Read My Lips.” Pic is first bigscreen feature by director Thierry Binisti, who helmed hit Gallic miniseries “The Blue Bicycle” (2001), starring Laetitia Casta.