Closet, The (Le Placard) (France, 2000) ***1/2
Written and directed by Francis Veber. Photography, Luciano Tovoli. Editing, Georges Klotz. Production design, Hugues Tissandier. Musica, Vladimir Kosma. Producer, Alain Poire. Cast: Daniel Auteuil (Francois Pignon), Gerard Depardieu (Felix Santini), Thierry Lhermitte (Guillaume), Michele Laroque (Miss Bertrand), Michel Aumont (Belone), ,Jean Rochefort (Kopel, the CEO), Stanislas Crevillen (Francl), Alexandra Vandernoot (Christine), et al. A Miramax release. In French with subtitles. 86 minutes. Rated R. At the New Art Theater.
What we have here is a series of records: #1, the funniest movie in ages #2, yet another confirmation that a French film will be remade in the USA. Hollywood regularly remakes its own movies. The second place is held by French movies, re-filmed in huge numbers for as long as one can remember #3, among the latter, the champion is director-writer-playwright-producer Francis Veber whose French films (whether directed or written or co-written by him) and plays were remade as American movies: "The Man With One Red Shoe," "The Toy," Buddy, Buddy," "Father's Day," "Three Fugitives," "Pure Luck," "The Birdcage." There were also several items made by Veber in Hollwywood. #4, "The Dinner Game, "Veber's mega-hit in Europe and in America, is expected in the USA in 2002 as "Dinner for Schmucks." Rights for a remake of "The Closet" have already been sold.
That work has been packing them in France, for obvious reasons. It is most amusing, imaginative and sophisticated. It is, in an odd way, gay-themed, but not centrally as was the Veber co-written "La Cage aux Folles." That work was a farce-comedy, this movie is a comedy-farce.
The basic story, clear and simple is that of Francois Pignon (the same name as the protagonist's in "The Dinner Game,") played by Daniel Auteuil. For 20 years he has worked as an accountant in a super-modern firm of rubber items, especially condoms. Francois has been a good employee but his personality is, to say the least, unremarkable. He blends in with the wallpaper, so to speak. And he is something of a sad sack these days because his wife had left him and their teen-age boy studiously avoids him. He finds that Dad is "chiant," a strong French word for "supremely dull."
Unexpectedly, the firm decides to retrench --minimally that is--which means that just one employee will be let go. Francois find out that he is that person.
What with his gloom about his ex-wife and his son, Francois goes to his apartment and contemplates suicide. A new, older neighbor comes to the rescue. This wise man thinks up a way to save Francois's job: make the firm believe that Francois is gay. Firing him would be politically incorrect, perhaps bring on a lawsuit, certainly create much bad publicity to the firm.
How this is done is an utter delight, but I will not spoil it for my readers. Suffice it to state that there are laughs galore, that the acting is first-class, that Francois never adopts any gay characteristics, that the technical aspects are excellent, the music first-rate and appropriate, and that there is, in the cast, the loveliest Scottish kitten you'll ever see. All the details are perfect and planned with energy as well as superior clarity throughout the delicious twists of characters and plot.
The tempo is perfect. Everything moves fast, but not in a speeded-up way. The camera and the editing know when to mini-linger, when to cut away.
Daniel Auteuil is a great performer. So is Gerard Depardieu. In a most un-Hollywoodian way, those superstars are not exactly pretty fellows-- to put it mildly. But then there is the unspoken, humanizing French tradition of often using leading as well as supporting actors who are not beauty kings -- call it the Michel Simon syndrome.
Depardieu's role here is a supporting one, and that's the sign of real trouper. He plays the factory's most openly homophobic employee, a man hoisted on his own petard who ends up as a simpatico character.
More I cannot disclose. See for yourself.