An accretion of painfully true, droll details distinguishes “Doors of Glory,” a comedy in which four door-to-door salesmen and their fearless leader ply overpriced encyclopedias in the overcast North and sunny South of France. Several priceless set pieces permit Belgian thesp Benoit Poelvoorde (star of “Man Bites Dog” and “The Carriers Are Waiting”) to strut his peculiar stuff, with excellent support from an ensemble cast. Fests should willingly open their doors to pic, which is holding up nicely at local wickets since opening in mid-June.
Sweet but slightly amorphous Jerome (Julien Boisselier, in a 180 from his officious shrink in “Nationale 7”) is a newbie salesman assigned to work with the grooming-obsessed Michel (Yvon Back), sly raconteur Patrick (Etienne Chicot), low-key fatherly vet Jacques (Michel Duchaussoy) and their regional director, Regis (Poelvoorde). Last is an emotionally fragile workaholic who increasingly identifies with the Alec Guinness character in “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
Jerome, who is engaged to the daughter of the firm’s owner, initially has no aptitude for sales. But he eventually gets the hang of convincing ordinary people that their lives will be incomplete without the five glossy volumes he’s promoting.
Casting of the customers and art direction of their homes couldn’t be better as the sneaky salesmen go through their semi-pathetic paces with varying degrees of success. Meanwhile, dorky Regis, who believes he’s destined for greater things, becomes increasingly unhinged as scenes from “Kwai” re-run in his mind.
Pic is both nasty and affectionate toward its characters, whose petty differences are exacerbated by a disastrous attempt to apply techniques that work in the industrial North but not in the laid-back Cote d’Azur. Helmer/co-writer Christian Merret-Palmair sustains an engaging tone, although the episodic, sharply observed situational humor may not tickle all funny bones.
Alexandre Desplat’s score is mixed too far forward but, with its ironic echoes of the Colonel Bogey March from “Kwai,” deftly translates the heroic fight against the threat of incivility, mutiny and failure in the field.