Produced by Jean-Louis Livi. Executive producer, Bernard Marescot.
Directed by Olivier Schatzky. Screenplay, Olivier Dazat. Camera (color), Jean-Claude Larrieu; editor, Jean-Francois Naudon; music, Alexandre Desplat; production designers, Jacques Bufnoir, Sophie Martel; costume designer, Annie Perrier; casting, Mamade. Reviewed at Gaumont Opera Francais theater Paris, Aug. 18, 1999. Original title: Monsieur Naphtali. Running time: 87 MIN.
With: Elie Kakou, Gilbert Melki, Isabelle Ferron, Alice Evans, Jena-Marie Lamour, Patrick Rombi, Cylia Malki, Laura Scozzi.
A comedy that its makers no doubt conceived as straightforward, “Mr. Naphtali” turns so peculiar and arbitrary before its bizarre conclusion that it nearly qualifies as surrealist. Tale of fortyish man-child who inadvertently wreaks havoc when two pair of bourgeois Parisian professionals invite him to their country manor stars beloved standup comedian Elie Kakou, who died in June. While amusing to Gallic auds, Kakou’s slightly prissy, completely naive take on the title character is unlikely to register offshore. Slapdash script is a surprising choice for helmer Olivier Schatzky, whose two previous outings — “Fortune Express” (1991) and “The Pupil” (1996) — were serious, nuanced and coherent.
Evicted from the rest home he loves, goodhearted, scrawny Mr. Naphtali (Kakou) stumbles into Paris. He meets a survey-taker who brings him to dinner with her publisher brother, his beautiful but neglected wife and their friends, a ferocious judge and her frequently drunk doctor husband, on whom she’s cheating with the estate’s hunky caretaker. By being himself, Naphtali unearths hidden truths. All concerned do the best they can with the material, which is perfunctory and fragmented to the point of borderline creepiness.