An extended, blackly-comic ode to rank incompetence, “Liberte-Oleron” examines what happens when a father of four with no marine experience buys a sailboat. Another entry in the recurring Gallic genre of “Family Vacations Are Hell, Yet Somehow the Source of Our Best Memories,” this leisurely, borderline-irritating pic has been tickling local sensibilities since opening late June but, to non-French eyes, builds to a climax about as funny as the Titanic going down. Offshore, well-cast film looks less likely to make safe harbor.
Team of co-scripting brothers, helmer Bruno and thesp Denis Podalydes (a comical nebbish who belongs to the permanent troupe of the Comedie Francaise), first touched a nerve among thirty-somethings with their 1996 feature debut, “God’s Got My Number.” That followed 1992’s “Versailles — Rive Gauche,” a 45-minute two-hander that won a slew of prizes, including the short film Cesar, and launched the still-vital Gallic trend of auds paying to see pics running less than an hour.
Ornery cipher Jacques Monot (Denis Podalydes), his mellow wife Albertine (Guilaine Londez) and their four sons soon tire of beach games during their seaside holiday on the island of Oleron. Never having touched a rudder, Jacques goes into debt to acquire a decrepit secondhand sloop from a boat salesman (Bruno Podalydes, amusing) who studied at the Academy of Used Car Salesmen. His technique for rooking customers while appearing to cater to their needs and desires provides rich fodder for comic bits.
After almost being crushed to death and nearly drowning — a scene local auds find hilarious — Jacques tries to perfect his non-technique via textbooks. Lackadaisical, indulgent family dynamics are sorely tested when real storm clouds gather.
A local landscape gardener, Gaboriau (Patrick Pineau, resplendent in Zen-macho mode), and a laconic boat repairman, Sergio (Eric Elmosnino), earn most of the deserved laughter. Other, more specious yuks are generated by physical discomfort, humiliation and reckless endangerment. Pic’s title is the name of the boat.