Cancer and comedy are shaken, then stirred to form an unlikely cocktail in “The Clink of Ice,” cineaste Bertrand Blier’s (“Buffet froid”) dark satire of one man’s uncanny relationship with his own terminal illness. More theatrical chamber piece than cinematic allegory, this villa-set affair oscillates between bouts of hilarity and the helmer’s trademark misanthropy. Although both the scenario and its execution are often heavy-handed, stars Jean Dujardin and Albert Dupontel create a formidable duo that’s mostly a pleasure to watch. Wide-scale French rollout should metastasize into good overseas biz following the pic’s international bow in Venice.
Reclusive author Charles Faulque (Dujardin) can live without writing, but he can’t live without a bottle of white wine and a bucket of ice, which mark his days on an isolated country estate in Southern France. As Charles best explains himself, “I became a writer, then an alcoholic, though I’m not sure in what order,” which is why his wife (Audrey Dana) and son (Emile Berling) slammed the door several years back, leaving him to stir in his own intoxicating juices along with his faithful, sex-starved servant, Louisa (Anne Alvaro, solid).
If life is clearly a bummer for Charles — and this despite the presence of his latest g.f. (Christa Theret), a nymph-like Russian beauty who spends her time either swimming or topless — it’s about to get worse with the arrival of his cancer (Albert Dupontel), who appears one day in human form (though initially only visible to Charles) to warn him that time is running out.
The idea of depicting cancer via a conniving, loudmouthed nuisance/imaginary friend (a vicious and sarcastic “Harvey”-like manifestation) is definitely an original one, and Blier milks it throughout the pic’s opening scenes as we see Charles’ fears transformed into lots of childish shenanigans. The thesps play these early moments for all their worth, Dujardin acting engagingly out of character as the abrasive and despicable author, Dupontel contributing his usual spirited monkey business as a disease dressed in a three-piece suit.
Yet while the concept is attractive and the cast always watchable, the action, which is basically restrained to a single setting, grows tiresome under Blier’s overwrought handling: How many times can the two knuckleheads scream at one another before the jokes start feeling old?
As the story progresses and Louisa starts to play a pivotal role (her own cancer appearing in the form of an annoying middle-aged wench, played by Myriam Boyer), Charles alights on a path toward redemption. While it may not teach him any valuable lessons nor put a stop to his drinking, the story’s surprising denouement proves that Blier has lost none of the rascally views expressed in 1974’s “Les Valseuses,” which, like this film, proves that endless debauchery is not always punished.
Despite the claustrophobic decor, regular cinematographer Francois Catonne utilizes plenty of Steadicam and an array of monochrome filters to make things fluid and colorful. The soundtrack is a welcome mix of contempo works by composers Pascal Dusapin and Eddy Louiss, as well as oldies such as Felix Leclerc’s “Ailleurs,” which accompanies the action at its most poetic moment.