The sadness of blissful ignorance. How cooking well can give you everything.
The Grandclément couple are happy, sort of. They eat well, don't care about whatever is outside their small immediate routine, much less about politics. They support "the government", whichever that is. Étienne says it clearly: "Why should I care for what happens outside of our town?", "We never traveled", and his firm political convictions: "All we want is to be left at peace to do our business". The epitome of a libertarian, but without the pseudo intellectualism :).
What's wrong with this people? Probably nothing, but this film or rather, this fable, is meant to show us how life, even a world war and the holocaust, can't shake their "trust" as F. Fukuyama would put it. They trust their world, people around them, and "authority".
What I think is most valuable of the film is the life they show us before the "big events" (the war). Their daily routine, small town pleasures and jealousies. If I had to single out one thing... The way Adèle moves is worth the film. She's perpetually confused, out of sync, but for cooking, at which she excels. "Well, that's the only think she cares about!". OK, granted. But any lesser actress would try to show off, do something else. Her portrayal of Insp. Bex at "Un honnête commerçant (2002)" only gave us a hunch of what she's capable with her "dull, unassuming characters". This film revolves on her, who carries it on her shoulders. I'm pleasantly surprised about her recent "César".
Favourite scene: The lunch with the Bouchalois couple, without any doubt! The exchange of platitudes, Madame Rouleau's sneer and constant complaints, how even they (the males, notice) can giggle when tipsy, and specially, what the rich couple says when their car breaks soon afterwards: (wife) "They had truffles"! (him) "We've got to profit while we can!".
This is a sad story about ignorance, pettiness and the manipulation of simple people, but as the film doesn't deal with this issues, I'll stay at the "comedy" level.
Étienne Grandclément is very believable as a "bureaucrat". Not one word in vain, nor one gesture without a purpose. Even when Bouchalois, when drunk, jokes about him getting everything from his mother in law, he doesn't react, and we believe him. His relationship with his workmate is also interesting. Étinenne just doesn't seem to notice how politics affect everything, even the "neutral zone that is not going to be forever". Another small gem: when his chief, in the first lunch, starts to speak about "cleaning France of Jews and masons". (Étienne) "I don't know any of those". He's not just "individualistic". He doesn't register anything outside his circle.
I think this film would make a good psychological study of characters, but luckily it doesn't dwell too much on "philosophical issues". It just shows, and lets us do our interpretation. Or not, and that's probably what the Grandclément, and probably the Rouleau, couples, would do :).
Natacha Lindinger as "Marie Müller" is OK as a beautiful, powerful, undercover agent, mildly compassionate about this poor fat soul that was put into her way by her cruel job. Not once does Adèle doubt about Marie's good intentions. Her unshakable faith is what this film has of more powerful. We should thank this film for keeping this plain feeling alive, without "dramatic effects". Marie sums it up so well, with her unusual "German" intelligence: "You are the happy one, with a long, uneventful life". The mention of "South America" as a haven for estranged Europeans seems "funny" now to our ears, given our perpetually bad governments, but at the time, it probably meant "liberty for the defeated". At least for the outright... Nazis.
The supporting cast's roles are quite stereotyped. Like "the man in charge of funerals" or Gothard. Madame Rouleau, on the contrary, is just perfect.
All in all, a great movie to witness life's lesser pleasures as a centre of it all. Enjoy, but, like all the "German" food, don't consume too much if you don't want to end like Étienne :).
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