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Cannes Film Review: ‘Apnea’

An insufferable improvised madcap comedy composed of unconnected skits designed to poke fun at bourgeois presumptions.

Apnee Cannes Film Festival
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

It’s unlikely anyone outside France will be watching “Apnea,” and that’s a good thing since its pseudo-madcap humor won’t translate well on foreign shores. Not that there’d be a problem with subtitling (the entirely improvised dialogue isn’t an issue); it’s the insufferability of it all. Two men and a woman careen about through various skits, partly (entirely?) shot in Corsica, creating a mildly anarchic effect that feels like comedy interstitials in a late-night TV show. Debuting helmer Jean-Christophe Meurisse probably wanted to create a sort of challenge to the bourgeoisie, yet there’s nothing destabilizing here, just silly and oddly old hat.

The opening sees Céline (Céline Fuhrer), Thomas (Thomas Scimeca) and Max (Maxence Tual) bursting into a registry office in strapless bridal gowns, demanding the mayor (Jean-Luc Vincent) marry the trio. He politely explains that threesome weddings aren’t legal, they protest and he flies off the handle. That pretty much sums up the arc of much of the ensuing sketches, all apparently blocked out in theme and location but improvised during shooting.

The film is designed without a connecting thread, other than the personalities of its central trio, each of whom view the world with naiveté crossed with exasperation that their desires are hampered by others. So they don’t rent an apartment, they don’t get a loan to start an amusement park, but they do protest loudly (especially Céline) when their requests are not met with approval. In other words, they behave like spoiled children, which really isn’t the best way to challenge the status quo. Unsurprisingly there’s also a bit of religious satire with an angry priest (Nicolas Bouchaud) and later a very bloody Jesus (Robert Hatisi, more amusing than most).

Spanish satirist Luis Buñuel used similar situations but knew how to be brilliantly subversive, plus he was a master of construction. Meurisse, founder of theater collective Les Chiens de Navarre, merely shifts from one situation to another in tedious succession, his three leads attacking each scene with gusto but remaining very much in improv theater mode. At least the visuals are sunnily attractive.

Cannes Film Review: ‘Apnea’

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Critics’ Week), May 16, 2016. Running time: <strong>88 MIN</strong>. Original title: (“Apnée”)

  • Production: (France) A Shellac release of an Ecce Films production, with the participation of Cine plus, in association with Cinémage 10. (International sales: Ecce Films, Paris.) Produced by Emmanuel Chaumet.
  • Crew: Directed by Jean-Christophe Meurisse. Screenplay, Meurisse, in collaboration with Amélie Philippe. Camera (color), Javier Ruiz Gomez; editor, Carole Le Page; production designers, Sven Kuffer, Hervé Redoules; costume designer, Elizabeth Cerqueira; sound (5.1), Colin Favre-Bulle; sound editor, Lucas Hébérlé; 1st assistant director, Emilie Orsatelli Tesi.
  • With: Céline Fuhrer, Thomas Scimeca, Maxence Tual, Thomas de Pourquery, Olivier Saladin, Claire Nadeau, Jean-Luc Vincent, Nicolas Bouchaud, Pascal Sangla, Robert Hatisi, Solal Bouloudnine.
  • Music By: