Side-splittingly funny and constantly outrageous, “Louise-Michel” takes the creative absurdism of helmers Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern (“Aaltra,” “Avida”) far beyond the restraining limits of good taste or political correctness. Skewering rampant capitalism, eco-tourism, and a host of genres, this tale of factory workers avenging themselves against their bosses is not only the duo’s best work yet, but a wickedly hilarious, marvellously calibrated exercise in deadpan style owing as much to Bunuel as to the Coen brothers. A sure-fire cult hit, “Louise-Michel” could reap strong rewards on Euro screens, though U.S. auds may take umbrage at some of the fun.
It may not have much to do with the plot, but the opening scene in a crematorium sets the tone for much of the hilarity to follow, perfectly matching expressionless faces and tone with moments of jaw-dropping outrageousness.
The all-female workers in a factory in depressed Picardy, France, turn up one morning to discover the boss has run off. Compensation will be minimal, so the women agree to pool the funds and create a $30,000 kitty.
After they reject some ideas for the money (opening a pizzeria, producing a nudie calendar), illiterate Louise (Yolande Moreau) suggests they hire a hit man and off the boss, to which everyone agrees, as if it’s the most logical conclusion. Like a cross between Shirley Stoler and Oliver Hardy, Louise is practically borderline retarded, an ex-con who whacked a bank manager some years before and now catches city pigeons in rat traps to supplement her meagre food allowance.
She recruits as hit man Michel (Bouli Lanners), an inept self-styled security manager for a trailer park, but he’s incapable of actually murdering anyone, so he asks his dying, cancer-riddled cousin Jennifer (Miss Ming) to do the deed. After the hit, Louise and Michel discover the real boss actually lives elsewhere, and they head off to track down the true culprits of the factory closing, moving from Picardy to Brussels and finally the isle of Jersey.
That Louise and Michel aren’t quite what they appear is perfectly in keeping with the rest of the film’s madcap trajectory, in which a host of characters — from a crazed conspiracy theorist (Benoit Poelvoorde) staging recreations of 9/11 to an eco-friendly B&B owner (Mathieu Kassovitz, also producing) heating his farm with his own excrement — reinforce the mood of anarchic glee. The helmers’ background in TV sketches is again apparent, but the occasionally unconnected feel of their previous pics feels better blended here.
Fittingly, the lead characters’ names derive from 19th century French anarchist Louise Michel. Moreau again demonstrates her extraordinary versatility (think of her moving perf in the self-directed “When the Sea Rises”), limiting the expression on her heavy-set, dispassionate face and brilliantly underplaying every reaction to achieve maximum comic effect. She’s the perfect partner for Lanners, whose childlike bluster allows for a more varied physicality.
The press notes claim there are only 260 camera shots used, which fits in with Delepine and Kervern’s belief that less is always more, not just with set-ups and movement but dialogue too: what happens offscreen can be just as funny as what’s in view. The use of American indie tracks by Daniel Johnston adds to a feeling of solidarity with the average Joe.