A pet rat sets off a chain reaction of debauchery in a prim and proper nuclear family in "Sitcom," a sort of " 'Mouse Hunt' Meets the Marquis de Sade" filtered through the sunny disposition of "Serial Mom."

A pet rat sets off a chain reaction of debauchery in a prim and proper nuclear family in “Sitcom,” a sort of ” ‘Mouse Hunt’ Meets the Marquis de Sade” filtered through the sunny disposition of “Serial Mom.” Pic is, by definition, marginal, but its commercial prospects are promising in outlets that relish notoriety and aren’t obliged to shy away from jaunty depictions of homosexuality, bisexuality, S&M, incest and the sight of at least one memorably proportioned erect member.

In his first feature-length outing, irreverent scripter-helmer Francois Ozon doesn’t sustain the mastery he showed in his compact gems “A Summer Dress” (25 minutes) and, especially, the majestically creepy “See the Sea” (52 minutes), but there’s plenty here to amuse and entertain as conventions get flaunted?? within an inch of their lives.

In its best stretches, the wry pic — withdrawn at the last moment from Berlin’s Panorama in favor of Cannes’ Critics Week — plays like an extended variation on the sitcom episodes in “Natural Born Killers” as directed by a young, cash-strapped John Waters, rather than Oliver Stone.

Unfortunately Ozon, an original, iconoclastic storyteller, hasn’t completely thought out his premise: The 79-minute endeavor runs out of steam about an hour in. “Sitcom” could have had genuine emotional resonance if helmer had resolved his cavalcade of talkshow-caliber “issues” with a little less genre-spoofing bravado and a touch more of the finesse of which he’s proved himself capable.

Movie kicks off with a red velvet curtain pulled aside to reveal a bucolic suburban home where mom, dad, brother and sister have lived in bourgeois harmony for 20 years. In an opening scene enacted almost completely via sound effects, model father Jean (Francois Marthouret) is greeted (offscreen) with a birthday surprise party thrown by his extended family. As birdies chirp in the yard, Dad responds by opening fire on his loved ones. Action then reverts to “several months earlier.”

Perfect mom and housewife Helene (Evelyne Dandry) gives the grand tour to Maria (Lucia Sanchez), the new Spanish maid. (As pic unfolds almost entirely in the pristine two-story house, it’s good to get the lay of the land.) When Dad comes home with a rat in a cage, Sophie and Nicolas (real-life siblings Marina and Adrien de Van) are pleased but Mom isn’t. Via osmosis, the unassuming rodent becomes the catalyst for a catalogue of radical transformations that fully embrace pic’s title.

Nerdy, studious Nicolas feels compelled to make a stunning announcement; soon after, the maid’s exotic spouse, Abdu, makes a lasting impression on the gawky youth. Sophie throws herself out a window, but survives and is confined to a wheelchair; her sex life with boyfriend David (Stephane Rideau) turns to whips and chains. The increasingly extroverted Nicolas hosts orgies in his bedroom, and Mom becomes increasingly stymied as to what her parental role should be.

Ozon is good at pinpointing the fulcrum in a situation and giving the upper hand to varying characters, juggling the balance of power in one-on-one scenes. But once the narrative circles back to the attention-getting beginning, pic falls prey to diminishing returns. Helmer has cooked up an ending that’s a little too neat compared with the darkly amusing revelations of the proceedings.

Ensemble cast shines, but it’s Dandry’s superlative perf as the mother that ties the shenanigans together. Marthouret is also aces as the aloof patriarch, who speaks entirely in homilies and platitudes until the rat prompts him to change his tune.

Lensing is relatively down to earth, and bursts of music include strings, ominous chords and frankly melodramatic snippets from the great classical composers.


  • Production: A Mars Films release (in France) of a Fidelite Prods. presentation and production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier. Directed, written by Francois Ozon.
  • With: Helene - Evelyne Dandry Jean - Francois Marthouret Sophie - Marina de Van Nicolas - Adrien de Van David - Stephane Rideau Maria - Lucia Sanchez Abdu - Julien-Emmanuel Eyoum Deido Shrink - Jean Douchet Camera (color), Yorik Le Saux; editor, Dominique Petrot; music, Eric Neveux; art director, Angelique Puron; costume designer, Herve Poeydemenge; sound (Dolby SR), Benoit Hillebrant; rat wrangler, Bruno Salvatore; assistant director, Jean-Guillaume Mathieu. Reviewed at Club de l'Etoile screening room, Paris, April 6, 1998. (In Cannes Film Festival -- Intl. Critics Week.) Running time: 79 MIN.