Comic sparks fly in “Le Derriere” when a young horsewoman raised in the French countryside locates her missing father and ends up posing as an effeminate gay man to capture his attention. Performing under her own direction for the second time — after the deliberately retro remake of Sacha Guitry’s four-hander “Quadrille” (1997) — gifted comedienne Valerie Lemercier pulls off a reverse- “Tootsie” gambit in addition to mining the comic possibilities of polite hypocrisy. Irreverent yet surprisingly sweet venture could be a crowd-pleaser for successful young Vertigo Prods.
After her mother’s death, Frederique (Lemercier) finally figures out who sired her and takes off for Paris where she crashes with a childhood buddy, affected ballet dancer Marc (Didier Brengarth). To smuggle Frederique into a trendy men-only bar, Marc and his two flamboyant pals dress her as a guy, with a boyish “bowl cut” wig. To cover her real voice, Frederique — whose male version of her name, Frederic, sounds the same in French — effects a regional accent that a hairy biker type finds irresistible.
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Back in female garb, Frederique discovers her dad, Pierre (Claude Rich), is head curator at a museum and lives in a magnificently appointed apartment with his younger male lover of 10 years, Francis (Dieudonne), a buppie proctologist with an amusing eating disorder. When Frederique can’t catch Pierre’s eye as a woman, she decides to take up her charade again and present herself as his son. A powerful member of the city’s cultural elite, Pierre assimilates the news far better than he does his “son’s” taste in clothes and conversation, modeled on the prissier example set by Marc and friends.
Thesps are obviously having a blast portraying a wide range of gay men who are comfortable with their sexuality, with special praise for Rich and Dieudonne. Lemercier counterbalances her double role by casting a man — beefy Franck de la Personne — as Pierre and Francis’ zaftig, slightly prudish housekeeper, Georgette. Marthe Keller is spot-on as a frivolous divorced neighbor who is determined to carry on her coquettish femme-fatale act well into her dotage.
Lemercier gets excellent mileage out of “Frederic’s” discomfort when she has to convincingly empty her bladder on the open road in full view of her father and Francis. Other memorable moments include a flea-market furniture dealer for whom making a sale is simply too much trouble, an embarrassing answering machine message and a deadpan rectal exam. Excellent art direction perfectly defines the varying sociocultural levels.
Although pic features some original music, it relies on variations on a Henry Mancini tune from his “Beaver Valley Suite” to lend a jaunty feeling. By chance, the movie arrives only two weeks after Remi Waterhouse’s “I Follow in My Father’s Footsteps,” which also revolves around a grown child resorting to subterfuge to get to know a long-lost father.