Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “His Majesty Minor,” in which a guy who thinks he’s a pig is promoted to sovereign, is a bold, incredibly peculiar tale, set on an island in the Aegean several thousand years B.C. Critics who gripe about films failing to break new ground won’t be able to level those charges at this sun-drenched comedy, where the lines between man and beast are blurry and pagan urges are the order of the day. Celluloid oddity, Annaud’s first French-language film in many moons, goes out wide in France Oct. 10.
Rarely has the reviewing phrase “will require special handling” rung truer. Set in a hermetic world at one with nature where a few tribal rules hold sway but nothing is really a sin, venture will be tagged an “art film” offshore. But unlike Annaud’s overly glossy “The Lover,” pic is genuinely lusty in an earthy, anything-goes way.
Late screenwriter Gerard Brach’s final script — his fifth collaboration with Annaud, after “Quest for Fire,” “The Name of the Rose,” “The Bear” and “The Lover” — lets pure imagination lead the way. Title cards, in the manner of an old-fashioned novel (“In which innocent hi-jinks lead to unthinkable events”) alert viewers to each set of developments.
Minor (Jose Garcia), a grown man, sleeps with the pigs. He shares the porcine approach to hygiene and sustenance and has never learned to speak, although he grunts fluently and intimately with one special sow. Minor longs from afar for Clytia (Melanie Bernier), a major babe engaged to sensitive hunk Karkos (Sergio Peris-Mencheta).
When Minor is punished for a tribal transgression, he discovers a forest enclave inhabited by mythological creatures, including a satyr named Pan (Vincent Cassel) and a centaur. Relentlessly upbeat for a critter who’s seen it all and done it all at least twice, Pan gives Minor a very friendly welcome, involving one of Pan’s protuberances and one of Minor’s orifices.
Later, having been left for dead by his compatriots, Minor resuscitates with the gift of perfect French speech, uttering tidbits such as, “Know thyself” and “I think, therefore I am.” But considering the antics to follow, perhaps “I think, therefore I ham” would be a better translation. Minor is granted kingly status and is suddenly more attractive to Clytia, who liked him even when he slept in a pigsty.
Wearing penis casings with the same nonchalance with which millions of businessmen once wore bellbottoms and flamboyant sideburns, the males here lounge about and pontificate when not helping themselves to life’s pleasures.
Garcia, emoting like the toned-down love-child of Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Hulce, makes the improbable Minor a convincing and rather endearing creature. The tinted silent film depicting how he came to be on the island is sweetly wacky.
Cassel’s fans should rejoice in his gung-ho perf as a grinning, prancing satyr who’s up for pronging anything from a rump-shaped tree stump to a diaphanous damsel to another man.
Lovely visual asides from the world of blooming vegetation invade the screen when Minor explores Clytia’s body for the first time. One can almost hear Annaud and Brach musing, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if … ?” and then marshalling the far-fetched visual elements required, whatever the statistical likelihood that many a head will be scratched in response.
Jaunty score is the opposite of ponderous; production design and costumes prove essential to the aura of being way off the beaten path. Relentlessly golden, burnished lensing is a widescreen plus.
Brach, to whom pic is dedicated, died in September 2006, four days after shooting began.