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Black comedy about solitude and dishumanization of the modern world, through the adventures of three men. First introduced is Alphonse Tram, an unemployed young man. His only neighbour is the police chief-inspector Morvandieu. Then a third man appears : he is Alphonse's wife's murderer... Bizarre and unreal. Written by
Great farce, surreal abstraction and a fascinating approach to character that rewards repeated viewings
DETECTIVE(S): Two men sit on a RER station platform at night. They engage in small talk. A knife is drawn. Later, one of these men will turn up dead. From here, things get ever more absurd; with the film becoming an arcane detective story in which questions are asked, but never answered, and answers are given to questions that were never asked. It's funny! And presented in the style of a surrealist nightmare of deadpan characterisations and a beautiful aimlessness that might just be a sly-social critique on the generation pre-François Mitterrand, and of the complexities of the overwhelming dislocation of modern-day existence. ABSTRACTION: The film can also be interpreted as a preposterous parody of the erosions of French national values against a jarring, Manhattan like skyline; which here seems to underpin the lost, isolation and stark confusion central to the majority of the recurring characters, as they become dwarfed by a surrounding architecture that is loaded with ideas of consumer-driven aspiration, social change and industrial improvement.
WINDOWS: To capture this sense of heightened atmosphere, director Bertrand Blier makes great use of the Hauts-de-Seine area of Paris - and in particular La Défense - with its towers of glass and steel and the areas of flat concrete that take on an even more surreal and alienated quality as a result of the nocturnal setting and the film's complete lack of any such signs of life. It creates a world that is oddly compelling and completely fascinating, with the film becoming a sort of aimless, rambling, nocturnal odyssey; as an unemployed philosopher takes up with a corrupt detective and the hapless criminal that murdered his wife and embarks on a bizarre quest that seems to be about everything and nothing simultaneously. BOATING: Throughout the film, the form and presentation of Blier's script and direction seem to suggest a sort of Buñuelian take on The Last of the Summer Wine (BBC, 1973), with a few further hints to the territory of Jacques Rivette's epic, multi-layered farce, Celine and Julie Go Boating (1972) thrown in along the way. Like that film, Buffet Froid (1979) deals with playful ideas of abstraction as a picaresque charade, as we shuffle between miniature-vignettes that capture a feeling rather than a story, and a sense of idyllic, lazy meandering playfulness that occasionally jars against the darker, though always tongue-in-cheek elements of the script.
ADVENTURE: The narrative is episodic and often confusing, as we find ourselves in the midst of a mad jumble of ideas and interpretations that jostle for our attention amidst the charismatic performances and the constant reliance on blistering, surrealist wit. Without question, the film is completely charming despite its seeming lack of an overall structure or plot; as three characters submerge themselves in an adventure that seems to involve roaming the nocturnal streets of Paris and engaging in darkly comic sketches of absurd role-play and duplicitous abandon. GAMES: These escapades ultimately tells us a great deal about the characters, without having to resort to lengthy scenes of dialog or interaction; with Blier building on the tone of that opening scene on the station platform and carrying it through to the later scenes, in which the deft character relationships and effortless games within the script captivate us and take us along with these ciphers on an ironic adventure that eventually closes in on itself. It naturally sounds more complicated than it actually is, however, fans of French cinema and the progressive surrealism of many of the filmmakers aforementioned - chiefly Buñuel and Rivette - will surely get a big kick out of the film's constant charm, energy, and spirited sense of subversion.
INFLUENCE: Likewise, the film should also appeal to anyone with a fondness for the films of Aki Kaurismäki - whose second film, Calamari Union (1985) owes something of a debt - and the deadpan constructions of Roy Andersson's recent work, Songs From the Second Floor (2000) and You, The Living (2007). You can also see a certain influence from legendary firebrand Jean Luc Godard present in the film's disregard for genre and deconstructive approach to narrative convention; while the look and feel of Blier's film may have even gone on to influence the style of the "cinema du look" - a brief resurgence of high-concept, 80's French cinema that looked to the spirit of La Nouvelle Vague and applied it to more contemporary concerns. Films such as Diva (1981), Subway (1985) and Mauvais Sang (1986) have a similar feeling of uncertainty and dislocation, with the elements of irreverent humour and characters reduced to ironic ciphers. DECONSTRUCTION: Its self-aware cinema then; a form a film-making that self-consciously reinvents itself from one scene to the next, but somehow feels completely natural; even as we move from a low-key sequence of character interaction, to a bizarre, satirical sequence in a gloomy country-mansion!
COLD-CUTS: Ultimately, I like this film because I like the characters, and I like the lazy, languorous atmosphere that is created by the situations that present themselves. This is helped by the perfect casting of an excellent Depardieu giving one of his best, comedic performances, ably supported by Jean Carmet as a nonchalant murderer and misogynist and the director's own father, esteemed actor Bernard Blier, as the contradictory police inspector. If you can appreciate this atmosphere, the dynamics of the narrative, the absurd jokes and the warm sparring of the characters then you should get a lot out of Buffet Froid, which not only offers entertainment, but a puzzle of sorts for the audience to make sense of. I can understand why some would dismiss it completely, but for me, the film is just endlessly fascinating and filled with deadpan farce that only the French can convey. It all builds incessantly to that unexpected final, in which the true absurdities of the film become apparent and Blier hits us with closing gag that somehow makes sense of the entire experience.
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