Sunday, July 31, 2011

Worth Watching: Le Dîner de Cons (1998)

Title: Le Dîner de Cons
Director: Francis Veber
Language: French
Rating: PG-13

Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) participates in a weekly dinner where he and his friends bring along the biggest idiots they can find; they do this for amusement and as a competition to see who can invite the crowning idiot of the evening. On the fateful day in which the film is set, Pierre believes he's found a fine specimen of idiocy: François Pignon (Jacques Villeret), a tax-man from the Ministry who in his spare time builds models of architectural wonders out of matchsticks. Pierre, a wealthy publisher, injures his back during golf and is forced to miss out on that evening's 'idiot dinner', but he invites François to his apartment to get to know him better before the next get-together. Thinking that Pierre is interested in publishing a book about his matchstick models, François arrives eager to help him in any way, and so, in a single evening, Pierre's life cheerfully goes to pieces.

Le Diner de Cons movie poster

François Pignon is the most likeable character here, not only because he's honest and genuinely willing to help, but because the actor who plays him, Jacques Villeret, has the endearing eyes of a hush puppy and an adorably pudgy face. It's difficult to take your eyes off of Villeret, who gives a brilliant performance as a well-meaning guy who can't think quickly on his feet and keep track of multiple details, though he appreciates mischief and cleverness. I thought his matchstick models were pretty impressive, and François makes an excellent omelet too so he's not without his talents.

For most of the evening François tries to help Pierre track down and win back his wife, Christine (Alexandra Vandernoot), who said that she's leaving him; Pierre, hampered by his bad back, is often limited to looking on in awe and horror as François attempts to set things right. This is Pierre's comeuppance. In some ways you feel bad for him (to have so much go so wrong in so little amount of time) but he brought these disasters on himself through his dishonesty and arrogance. Thierry Lhermitte, in addition to having lovely blue eyes, is a fine actor, the straight man to Villeret's loveable buffoon, and watching them together is a treat.

Two more minor characters are also worth noting. Lucien Cheval (Daniel Prévost) is a zealous tax inspector and diehard soccer fan who gets sucked into, and contributes to, the unfolding miseries in Pierre's apartment. Juste LeBlanc (Francis Huster) is Pierre's estranged friend; François inadvertently reconciles them during the film, and so Juste is at hand for a part of the evening, though even together he and Pierre can't undo what François has wrought. Juste has an infectious wheezy laugh; the situation gets to be too funny for him to handle, and I understand completely - I can't remember the last time I was laughing so hard during a movie that I had to pause it several times.

Pierre and François don't become best buddies or anything like that. The movie ends on just the right note.

Francois Pignon

Memorable sights and sounds
The facial expressions - confusion, naïveté, and innocent glee from François, stunned disbelief from Pierre, and shrewd calculation from the tax inspector, Cheval, who with few important exceptions misses very little.

Stand-out scenes
Any time François Pignon uses a telephone is funny, whether he dials the wrong number, forgets the primary purpose of the call, gets carried away with emotion, chats about irrelevant details, and even when he does finally get it right, screws things up immediately after.

The entire scene with the tax inspector is also brilliant, with different kinds of humor from verbal wit to sight gags, multiple revelations, some plot points memorably resolved and new ones introduced.

Further thoughts
I can't think of another movie where a character says, in all seriousness, "I'm in a bind; I don't have an idiot. I've looked all over... got one on hand?" Pierre is the one who says this; and he doesn't have to look far. Pretty much everyone is an idiot in one way or another.

*All images link back to their sources (Wikipedia; moviemusereviews)