Captivating biopic “Coluche” focuses less on the laughs than on the gaffes of “France’s favorite comedian,” whose unlikely 1981 presidential bid caused a public uproar that would haunt the star until his death in a motorcycle accident five years later. A comic vet himself, writer-director Antoine de Caunes allows lead actor Francois-Xavier Demaison to successfully re-create some of Coluche’s legendary standup acts, setting them amid his brief and troubled foray into the discreetly sinister world of French politics. Wide mid-October release was met with relative enthusiasm, but interest beyond Gaul will be minimal.
For those unfamiliar with Michel Colucci, aka Coluche, picture a Gallic version of John Belushi, with a similar outlandishness both on and offstage that included plenty of drug/alcohol binging. Add to that a fearsome talent for sociopolitical satire a la George Carlin, and a star power more on the level of a pop singer, and you’ll get an idea of how Coluche managed to enrapture the French public through the ’70s and ’80s.
Instead of the usual rags-to-riches, pathos-fueled biopic, writer-helmer de Caunes and co-writer Diasteme reduce Coluche’s story to the eight-month period when he tried a run at the French presidency on his own eccentric ticket.
After an opening standup number, followed by a quick intro to his team of manager Jacques (Olivier Gourmet), wife Veronique (Lea Drucker) and concept man Jean-Paul (Laurent Bateau), pic shows Coluche (Demaison) mischievously deciding, with the aid of several joints and bottles of champagne, to launch his campaign. At a press conference, he calls for all “lazy bums, slobs, drug addicts, alcoholics, etc.” to “join together and fuck over” the other politicians.
What starts as another shameless prank soon turns serious when Coluche begins polling in the 10% range, shaking up the status quo of traditional right-left politics and ticking off conservative incumbent Valerie Giscard d’Estaing and socialist challenger Francois Mitterrand (neither shown onscreen). Mitterrand quickly dispatches adviser Jacques Attali (Denis Podalydes) to convince the comic to back off.
Narrative crosscuts between Coluche’s popular stage acts and the behind-the-scenes turmoil surrounding his kooky campaign. Story is less a feel-good homage than an insightful, often critical portrayal of a star reaching beyond his means, and for reasons that sometimes appear to be less comical than manipulative.
Coluche’s contradictory personality is well captured by Demaison (“Disco”), who gained plenty of kilos for the role. He looks uncannily like the real thing when dressed in Coluche’s clownish combo of yellow T-shirt, dungarees and painted red nose.
Tech package is accomplished without forcing the period, and strong handheld lensing by Thomas Hardmeier gives pic a needed sense of immediacy.