Aself-mocking utopian riff on what’s become of the erstwhile “revolutionaries” of May ’68, Romain Goupil’s “Down With Death!” is a French Movie writ large. Scripter-helmer-star Goupil — whose “Death at 30” won the Camera d’Or in 1982 — could have filmed his navel but has instead given us the entire full-frontal package in a narcissistic turn as a 47-year-old publisher always primed for a roll in the hay with the women who were with him on the barricades three decades ago. French crix and chroniclers can be counted upon to declare this one of the most resonant assessments of the former troublemakers who became Gaul’s so-called “caviar leftists,” but offshore response is more likely to be polite-to-baffled mystification.
Fittingly, pic kicks off Directors Fortnight, which was begun as a direct result of the upheaval that stopped Cannes in its tracks in May 1968. Sometimes funny but mostly self-indulgent effort applies a joyously insular attitude to the Holy Trinity of auteurism: superficial politics, lots of talk and plentiful sex and nudity as endless chicks throw themselves at the director. As an untoward number of his circle commit suicide, O.D. or otherwise croak, protag takes everything in stride.
Pic gets off to a promising start in slo-mo in the rain at a Paris cemetery as voice-over announces, “My name is Thomas and as of today I get the feeling I’ll be seeing my friends more often at funerals than at demonstrations.” For the cognoscenti, mourners include cameos by ex-revolutionaries who grew up to be socialist politicians, journalists for major publications and other comfortable bigwigs far removed from their scruffy roots.
Pic then segues into one of its best sequences: a sort of AA meeting for recovering militants and “demonstration junkies,” including a woman who proudly announces she’s been “clean” concerning feminist gatherings for 13 years and a guy who is greeted by gasps when he says he fell off the wagon once by shouting, “More money for Social Security!” during a passing march he couldn’t resist.
But this, alas, is just a dream, as Thomas awakens beside one of his many good-natured, worshipful mistresses. (This one happens to be a high-powered communications exec in charge of celebrations for the year 2000.) Thomas’ constant priapic dips into his revolutionary Rolodex don’t seem to bother his cheery, gorgeous wife (Marianne Denicourt) or taint his energetic role as dad to their four kids — maybe because Thomas keeps a spare set of clothes at the office to help mask his tomcatting ways.
In Thomas’ routine of attending funerals and sleeping around, a modicum of edgy suspense is provided by a sinister fellow who thinks his former comrades have sold out and leaves threatening phone messages at all hours.
Lensing gets the job done and eclectic cast is obviously gung-ho about embodying a generation that’s beaten paving stones into stock shares. Pic’s biggest liability by far is Goupil as the immature, womanizing, smooth-talking jerk for all seasons: He’s not an actor and simply sounds too declamatory and awkward in the midst of so many far better thesps. Thomas’ serial obnoxiousness may pass for charm in Goupil’s anointed crowd, but pic’s comic asides aren’t strong enough to elevate proceedings from a scattershot personal diary to a tale of wider interest.