You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The King of Escape

To cope with his midlife crisis, a gay middle-aged tractor salesman tries batting for the other team in this thoroughly entertaining character comedy.

With: Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi, Pierre Laur, Luc Palun, Pascal Aubert, Francois Clavier, Bruno Valayer, Jean Toscan.

To cope with his midlife crisis, a gay middle-aged tractor salesman tries batting for the other team in the thoroughly entertaining character comedy “The King of Escape.” Normally quirky writer-director Alain Guiraudie (“No Rest for the Brave”) could have a niche hit on his hands here with critical support and the right marketing (including a snappier English title). Quietly wacky pic has definite, if limited, potential offshore as a niche item.

Armand Lacourtade (Ludovic Berthillot) is a tubby 43-year-old in southwestern France who’s indecisive, terminally lazy and not the sharpest tool in the shed. One night, he happens to rescue teenage Curly Durandot (Hafsia Herzi) from a bunch of bullies — typically, by paying them off, not punching them out — and gets slim thanks from her father, Daniel (Luc Palun), a rival salesman at the same small firm.

Curly, with all the passion of a 16-year-old, falls for her unlikely knight in faded armor, and Armand, who’s kind of bored with rural, middle-aged gaydom, responds to her uncomplicated vivacity and rebellious desire to run away from her horrid parents.

Pic doesn’t agonize over all the sexual issues it throws up, instead establishing an offbeat comic tone in which anything is possible. As in several of Guiraudie’s previous films, gay characters are simply part of life’s fabric — here more than anywhere — and not marked by any of the usual cliches. So when Curly and Armand try to get it on in the woods one day, it seems a pretty natural progression in the fluid state of things.

However, Curly’s father has other ideas — simply because he thinks Curly is too young and Armand is a slob — and files a complaint against him. The two lovers, who finally do get it on, try to go on the run, with the local cops, plus Daniel and his pals (who have their own secret to hide), on their tail.

Wafer-thin plot is more an excuse for parading a rich selection of character types than anything else, as, refreshingly, the movie never gets tied up in emotional angst or sexual guilt. Herzi, who sprang to attention in last year’s “The Secret of the Grain,” is excellent here as a simple force of nature, while Berthillot gives what must rank as one of the most minimal perfs in years. (Armand’s response to most situations is either a shrug or raised eyebrows.)

But it’s the surrounding characters who give the film its special comic flavor, from Francois Clavier’s lantern-jawed cop who pops up in the most unlikely places, to Armand’s boss, played by Pascal Aubert, who casually asks his employee for a very special favor. As a feisty old wrinkly, Jean Toscan provides some of the biggest laughs at the end.

Multitude of sex scenes — most in the open air — are staged with both wit and realism, sans visual explicitness. A marked strength of the movie is that it does succeed in making the unlikely central love affair believable within its own universe, framed by Sabine Lancelin’s no-frills but evocative lensing of summery locations around Toulouse.

The King of Escape


Production: A Les Films du Losange release of a Les Films du Worso production, in association with Gladys Glover, with participation of Arte, Cofinova 4. (International sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris.) Produced by Sylvie Pialat. Co-producer, Gladys Grover. Directed by Alain Guiraudie. Screenplay, Guiraudie, Laurent Lunetta, Frederique Moreau.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Sabine Lancelin; editors, Benedicte Brunet, Yann Dedet; music, Xavier Boussiron; art director, Didier Pons; costumes, Roy Genty; sound (Dolby Digital), Xavier Griette; assistant director, Francois Chaillou. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 18, 2009. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: With: Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi, Pierre Laur, Luc Palun, Pascal Aubert, Francois Clavier, Bruno Valayer, Jean Toscan.

More Film

  • Cannes Film Review: 'Alice and the

    Cannes Film Review: 'Alice and the Mayor'

    Sophomore director Nicolas Pariser follows his politically engaged debut, “The Great Game,” with an even deeper plunge into the disconnect between political theory and the workings of government in the unmistakably French “Alice and the Mayor.” Deeply influenced by Eric Rohmer in the way it aspires to use philosophical dialogue to reveal something about the [...]

  • 'Diego Maradona' Review: The Football Legend

    Cannes Film Review: 'Diego Maradona'

    You expect the director of a biographical documentary to have a passion for whoever he’s making a movie about. But the British filmmaker Asif Kapadia spins right past passion and into obsession. He doesn’t just chronicle a personality — he does an immersive meditation on it. Kapadia plunges into the raw stuff of journalism: news [...]

  • Atlantics

    Emerging Talent From Gallic Cinema

    Variety is teaming with Unifrance, an agency that promotes French cinema around the world, to focus attention on four emerging talents in the French movie industry as part of Unifrance’s “New Faces of French Cinema” program. Here Variety profiles the rising filmmakers: Justine Triet, Eléa Gobbé-Mévellec, Hafsia Herzi and Mati Diop. Mati Diop Born to [...]

  • John Hannah Reunites With ‘The Mummy’

    John Hannah Reunites With ‘The Mummy’ Actors for Horror Pic ‘Lair’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    John Hannah, Corey Johnson and Oded Fehr will star in “Lair,” billed as a socially conscious horror movie about an LGBT family embroiled in one man’s attempt to prove the existence of the supernatural. The trio all appeared in the successful franchise “The Mummy,” and their new picture goes into production later this year. Katarina [...]

  • Loving Vincent Animation Oscars

    Adult Audience Animation: Cannes Panel Talks Big-Screen Strategy

    CANNES–A panel of leading animation industry executives gathered during the Cannes Film Market on Sunday to shed light on their strategies for the theatrical release of adult-oriented animated features. It was a timely conversation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Five of the 28 animated projects in the Marché du Film are adult audience-focused, including [...]

  • Lea Drucker poses with the Best

    French Filmmaker Axelle Ropert Readies 'Petite Solange' With MK2 Films (EXCLUSIVE)

    French writer/director Axelle Ropert is set to direct “Petite Solange,” a film that will star Léa Drucker and Philippe Katerine, who won the best acting nods at this year’s Cesar Awards for their performances in “Custody” and “Sink or Swim,” respectively. MK2 films will handle international sales. Haut et Court has acquired rights for French [...]

  • Dutch FilmWorks Moves into International Sales

    Dutch Film Works Moves into International Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

    A major new international sales outfit is coming to market. Dutch Film Works (DFW), one of the largest movie distributors in the Benelux region, is moving into film and TV sales. DFW general manager Angela Pruijssers will spearhead the sales effort alongside Charlotte Henskens, who will join from Amsterdam-based Fortissimo Films, where she is director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content