Review: ‘Mariscos Beach’

Imagine a version of Eric Rohmer's "Pauline at the Beach" in which the cast occasionally breaks into song and most of the male characters are gay. Fourth feature by unclassifiable French mavericks Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau melds sun, passion and yards of metaphysical dialogue into a very Gallic bouillabaisse.

Imagine a version of Eric Rohmer’s “Pauline at the Beach” in which the cast occasionally breaks into song and most of the male characters are gay — and you’re close to “Mariscos Beach.” (Pic was retitled Cote D’azur for its eventual U.S. release.) Fourth feature by unclassifiable French mavericks Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau melds sun, passion and yards of metaphysical dialogue into a very Gallic bouillabaisse about the fluidity of sexual attraction. Lightweight comedy of errors, masking a more serious liberal message, floats by on its strong cast and, though pitched largely at auds with gay sensibilities, resonates reasonably well as accessible arthouse fare for straight viewers.

Marc (Gilbert Melki) and his wife, Beatrix (Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi), are spending the summer for the first time with their teen kids, athletic Laura (Sabrina Seyvecou) and moody, longhaired Charly (Romain Torres). They hole up at a house on the Cote d’Azur where Marc used to vacation when young. Despite the usual spats, they’re basically a loving family.

Laura knows exactly what she wants from the holiday, and soon ankles for plenty of it with her biker b.f.

Beatrix is more disquieted when Charly’s best friend, Martin (Edouard Collin), comes down to stay, and the two start spending a lot of time together.

It soon emerges that Martin is gay, and Charly isn’t. It also emerges that Beatrix’s lover, Mathieu (Jacques Bonnaffe), has come down for some clandestine R&R right under Marc’s nose. Soon, a lot of bedroom doors are banging in the Provencale retreat and people are taking showers at weird times in the night.

Meanwhile, Marc’s status as the quiet, unassuming hubby is also being redefined by his vague physical attraction to Martin. Things get even more complicated when Didier (Jean-Marc Barr), a local plumber, comes by, after rescuing Charly one night from an embarrassing misunderstanding in a gay cruising spot. It turns out Didier and Marc were friends way back.

Without quite falling into the conventions of sexual farce, Ducastel and Martineau keep the pic lightly comic, with all the characters looking for emotional fulfillment in one way or another. Script’s main weakness is that it doesn’t know what to do with the women in the story. Laura is ditched at an early stage, and Beatrix, who’s conveniently described as half-Dutch (thereby accounting for both her freer attitude toward sex and thesp Bruni-Tedeschi’s accent), is portrayed as a loopy dame with no fixed values. Her lover, Mathieu, in Bonnaffe’s rather epicene performance, is also hardly a pillar of masculinity, weakening any conflict between her going off with him or staying with her husband.

Still, pic has an easy charm on its own terms, with Bruni-Tedeschi slinking around in another of her patented turns as a sexy airhead, and both Melki and Barr bringing some grit to the other adult roles. As the teen pals, Torres and Collin are also good, with the former handling a difficult role with some aplomb.

Musical numbers are part and parcel of the whole entertainment, typifying the film’s laissez-faire attitude. Overall, pic is as much a tribute by helmers to Rohmer as their debut movie, the tuner “Jeanne and the Perfect Guy,” was a tribute to Jacques Demy — here with the balance between song and dialogue reversed.

Tech package is pro, with no frills. Flat English title screams out for a change: the alliterative French one — which literally means “Crustaceans & Shellfish,” refers to the erotic connotations of seafood noted in the script.

Mariscos Beach

France

Production

A Bac Films (in France)/Strand (in U.S.) release of a Bac Films presentation of an Agat Films & Cie. production, with participation of Canal Plus, Cine-Cinema. (International sales: Bac Films Intl., Paris.) Produced by Nicolas Blanc. Directed, written by Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau.

Crew

Camera (color), Matthieu Poirot-Delpech; editor, Dominique Gallieni; music, Philippe Miller; art directors, Karim Hamzaoui, Emmanuel Balconnet; costume designer, Anne-Marie Giacalone; sound (Dolby Digital), Laurent Lafran, Oliver Do Huw; choreographer, Sylvie Giron; assistant director, Sebastien Matuchet; casting, Antoine Carrard. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 12, 2005. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Gilbert Melki, Jean-Marc Barr, Jacques Bonnaffe, Edouard Collin, Romain Torres, Sabrina Seyvecou, Yannich Baudin, Julien Weber.
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