French troublemakers Benoit Delepine and Gustave de Kervern concoct yet another portrait of bizarre behavior in “Le grand soir,” a virtually unexportable oddity that had locals laughing at the Cannes Film Fest, where it won the jury prize in Un Certain Regard. While the film was unquestionably conceived as a comedy, it’s hard to imagine anything more tragic than an aging punk, though even that idea becomes funny when twisted back on itself. Opening in Gaul on June 6, this innocuous assault on a capitalist shopping center and all it represents could ironically become a financial success in Francophone zones.
The “big night” ahead entails a mini-revolt led by a misfit French family whose members decide, in an act of spontaneous solidarity, to embrace the anarchist ways of their black-sheep son and stage a demonstration against the soul-crushing complex of big-box stores where they all work — well, all but Not (Benoit Poelvoorde), who never works. Ridiculously out of place in such a suburban environment, mohawked Not has his hands full being the world’s oldest living punk with a dog — a role that requires that he and his pet “punk shepherd” spend their days wandering the immense parking lot pestering the customers.
After years of being the responsible one, Not’s straight-laced brother Jean-Pierre (Albert Dupontel) snaps one day, walking out of his job as a mattress salesman and proceeding to melt down in the neighboring Wal-Mart-like superstore. There, one can evidently buy everything but sympathy, since the shoppers pay him little mind when he douses himself with gasoline and lights a match. Not sees this as the right time for an intervention, cutting his brother’s hair and carving the word “Dead” into his forehead — a message that, when combined with his own tattoo, completes his battle cry against all those who would turn them into workaday wage slaves: “Not dead!”
To appreciate the casting of “Le grand soir,” one practically has to imagine a scenario in which Steve Carell gets a makeover from Charlie Sheen in full-on tiger-blood mode. While Dupontel reps a fairly straightforward sort of comic performer, recently seen playing a cancerously unwelcome houseguest in “The Clink of Ice,” Poelvoorde is more of a wild card, best known for his turn as the reality-show serial killer in “Man Bites Dog.” Putting such oil-and-water personalities together immediately elicits a certain loony chemistry, and the directing pair exploits that friction to the max.
The sort of offering that allows auds to vicariously experience a bit of misbehavior, the film aspires to be a laugh riot but lands somewhere closer to a two-man chuckle parade. Of the duo’s previous outings, “Le grand soir” most resembles “Louise-Michel,” although instead of making mayhem on the road, the two characters here are confined to the neighborhood surrounding a small town’s soulless consumer center, relying on a punk-rock score to do the heavy lifting.
At one point, the brothers take a stand against private property, walking in a straight line through the yards and living rooms of several houses. When the outraged residents object, the boys reply, “It belongs to the bank!” — a line that, while true anywhere, seems far less likely to kill in the U.S. The same goes for certain plays on words, including a long “who’s on first” routine between a security guard and the boys’ fry-cook father (Areski Belkacem) that riffs on various permutations of the French verb “aller.” If it’s a wider audience they want, ca va pas.