Dorothy Parker would have said that what passes for the narrative in Maurice Pialat’s “Le Garcu” runs the gamut from A to B — but only if she were feeling charitable. Flatter and less nourishing than a week-old crepe, this rambling and tedious look at a self-centered man who makes occasional disruptive visits to the young son he claims to adore plays as a caricature of what people outside France tend to think a French movie is, right down to shapely young actresses disrobing for Gerard Depardieu’s unsympathetic central character for no apparent reason except that it’s in the script.
Following Pialat’s austere but masterful 1991 “Van Gogh,” this mundane, diffuse exercise utterly fails to enlighten, entertain or otherwise engage outside observers. Fest directors skeptical that so much proven talent could yield so negligible a result may give pic a whirl, but commercial chances offshore look bleak.
Gerard (Depardieu) has fathered a son, Antoine, with much younger Sophie (Geraldine Pailhas). Their relationship flounders. Gerard lives elsewhere with a woman in his own age bracket (Depardieu’s real-life spouse,Elisabeth) and receives visits from his mistress (Fabienne Babe) for recreational sex.
Sophie starts living with Jeannot (former soccer star Dominique Rocheteau, in an uncomfortable screen debut) and raises Antoine (played by Pialat’s own 4 -year-old tyke, Antoine). Gerard erupts into their lives without notice to lavish nanoseconds of affection on the boy before brusquely rushing off to pur-sue his never-specified profession.
Gerard’s ailing father (Claude Davy, Depardieu’s longtime publicist) dies. We then learn that the father’s nickname was “le garcu,” a linguistic riff on “le garcon.” This revelation, like every other development in the script, has no more resonance than a faint sound in a padded room. Characters are still ciphers when the closing credits roll.
Pailhas (“the centerfold” in “Don Juan DeMarco”) comes closest to seeming like a real person in a cast where even Depardieu (in his fourth collaboration with Pialat) appears to be coasting. Home-movie-ish scenes involving the child smack of forced gaiety or contrived urgency — except that terms such as “gaiety” and “urgency” are too vivid for what actually transpires. Auds who remain awake will not be privy to greater rewards than patrons who involuntarily drop off to sleep.
The one consistently excellent tech aspect is the lighting, both in Paris and on location in Mauritius (site of a brief vacation sequence). Curiously, the names of the three cinematographers who worked on the movie are absent from the main titles, press material and all one-sheets, though they’re included in the end crawl; reason, per a Pialat rep, is that the director could not decide over the division of labor. Their fine work, alas, is not sufficient to illuminate the characters’ inner workings.