The Closet
review by Elias Savada, 27 July 2001

Gay Paree just bubbled up a few degrees with the delightfully witty homo-faux-bic comedy The Closet (La Placard) from Francis Veber, one of France's most successful auteurs and masters of misperception for the last several decades. Almost thirty years ago he penned The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe and in the late 1970s offered up the quintessential French social farce La Cage aux Folles. His new coming out party is a fitfully engaging comedy about hidden inner strengths that flourish under the most simple misconceptions.

Veber's films often center on all variety of the human sad-sack tale -- in the closet and out -- with American audiences often getting a double dose of his ironic underpinnings when remade in Americanized (i.e., Disney-fied) versions. La Cage aux Folles begat 1996's The Birdcage. His first directorial effort Le Jouet was recast as 1982's The Toy with Jackie Gleason and Richard Pryor. 1974's Tall Blond Man became The Man With One Red Shoe (1985). Le compères (Father's Day), and Les fugitifs (Three Fugitives), among others, have been similarly translated with varying success. More recently his Le Diner des Cons (The Dinner Game), a moderate success stateside last year, is being refashioned as Dinner for Schmucks with Kevin Kline. Quite a cottage industry here.

And despite Veber having lived in the United States for the last fifteen years, he still maintains a decidedly cosmopolitan flair -- and is uniquely funny. Disney may be awash in red ink from its latest animated disaster Atlantis, but it's Miramax unit shouldn't be as red faced with The Closet, a consistently diverting and moral tale.

Long-time accountant Francois Pignon's (Daniel Auteuil) dull, old-fashioned, boring speck of colorless presence contrasts sharply with the bright blue, ultra-modernist (matching the obvious iMac computers) style of the condom factory where he is entrenched. If he's noticed at all by his co-workers, it's with an exaggerated yawn or hushed, back-stabbing defacement. Being elbowed out of the company's annual photo segues into his being pushed out of his office under a generalized "staff reduction," two years after this nebbish was cast off from his ice queen wife Christine (Alexandra Vanderhoot), for whom he still pines, and their teenage son Franck (Stanislas Crevillén), both of whom make concerted efforts not to answer his dreary telephone calls or dine on his homemade tomato and basil pasta. The radio blares out bad news, too. Ferry disasters. Mass kidnappings. And the toast pops out of his toaster…and out the window!

His transparent wallpaper existence peels away with the arrival of a new neighbor in his apartment building. Belone (Michel Aumont), a retired corporate psychologist, is worried that Francois' leanings over his balcony might make for a more desperate agenda. Their friendship quickly cemented over an adorable kitten, they hatch an absurd plan to send to Francois' employers anonymous photographs of him doctored to reveal a nonexistent homosexual slant. This forces Kopel (Jean Rochefort), the company director, to reverse course on the recent dismissal for fear of a potential lawsuit and loss of the gay market for his disposable latex product. From thence on the mis-firings begin, keyed off the brutish Felix Santini, a middle-management type played with befuddled gay-bashing desperation by the heavy set Gérard Depardieu. Felix, himself the brunt of corporate tricksters (including Thierry Lhermitte as the p.r. flack Guillaume), is forced to wine and dine Francois rather than appear homophobic. Played with Ralph Kramden gusto, Felix expects his home life to be fully catered -- dropping daily into his favorite lounge chair and having his wife firmly placed a beer can in his outstretched hand. When she misconstrues his flamboyant purchases of a pink cashmere sweater and expensive chocolates as fodder for a mistress, rather than as the intended gifts to ward off legal difficulties from Francois, all hell breaks loose.

While Felix is temporarily shipped off for R&R at a local sanitarium, the fashionable Mlle. Bertrand (Michèle Laroque), who has shared an office with Francois -- now widely perceived as the company's token homosexual by not admitting to be anything different -- for six years without a hint of gay pride from him, gets into some lightheaded social/sexual misunderstandings trying to uncover the ever-widening plot. Social/sexual intercourse follows in one of the funniest set-ups for an audience of Japanese clients visiting the plant.

Of course, this odd-man-out story ends up a happy-ever-after fairy tale. Aside from Veber's breezy story, quick pace, and visual flair, the entire cast reads like a Who's Who in French Cinema. Auteuil, well known for his dramatic performances (Girl on the Bridge, The Widow of St. Pierre, Manon of the Spring) which have earned him an incredible nine César Award nominations, has heretofore been unseen in a Veber farce. He endears his role with wonderfully simple charm and pathos -- hard to do within the limitations of such a relatively shy, discrete persona. Popping up in an occasional English-language title (Green Card being the first that comes to mind), Depardieu's dunderheaded Felix is a remarkable smug character with stuffed-shirt mentality fits well in his trenchcoat wardrobe.

Vladimir Cosma's score also helps push the envelope of office politics, with bittersweet flourishes swirling about the work place. One of the biggest French successes in recent years (which doesn't usually translate into boffo U.S. boxoffice), The Closet champions dullness to marvelous effect. Quite refreshing.

Written and
Directed by:

Francis Veber

Daniel Auteuil
Gérard DepardieuThierry Lhermitte
Michèle LaroqueMichel Aumont
Jean Rochefort
Alexandra Vandernoot
Stanislas Crevillén

R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
parent or adult




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