The film is set entirely in an African holiday resort, focusing on a group of club holidaymakers and the staff. Anyone who has seen Julian and Denise's recent Sky programme will know what to expect (although this is funny) - practical jokes (staff shower group photograph with buckets of water, or steal the trunks of a clumsy dullard trying to impress the ladies), silly beach games, vaudeville-type performances, trips into the surrounding countryside, rigorous massages etc.
There is no one narrative in the film, and this, in one sense, (if I may say so under IMDb guidelines) is its drawback. The lack of a coherent goal, or structure, means that the film just wanders at will, like a holiday. You can't even say the drive for sex is a goal, because we don't stay long enough with any single character to care about their adventures. The lack of form also means that amid the undoubtedly sidesplitting highspots, there are an awful lot of longueurs. The good bits lose momentum and therefore effect. Compare the ensemble films of Altman, which seem unfocused, but are actually rigorously patterned and hence impart enormous power.
The good thing, though, about this diffusion of narrative focus, is that we are treated to lots of wonderful characters in hilarious situations which can just be funny in themselves, without being weighed down by the need to be relevant to plot. And if the characters are stereotypes, the actors (including future French megastars Thierry Lhermitte, Josianne Balasko and Michel Blanc), who improvised the material on stage in its original incarnation, make sure they're always alive.
There's the 'modern' couple Nathalie and Miguel, whose inability to be honest with each other means that they try to sleep around against their will. There's Jean-Claude Dusse, a shy, clumsy virgin whose innocent attempts to meet women end up looking seedy. There's the doctor, wearing an offputting pair of undersized trunks, or Gigi, the beautiful, seemingly dippy girl whose every relationship seems all-consuming until the next.
Then there's the staff - the serial bedder Popeye, who has a breakdown when his wife actually has an affair. Or Bobo, a former insurance clerk turned clown whose dreams of fame and women have yet to come true. Or Bourseault, the former TV star reduced to this kind of work, locked into his inane image, and observing others.
Though mostly played for laughs, there is an emotional undercurrent occasionally gleaming through, in which we see the fears and failures of the various characters revealed beneath their bluster. There is a death, but this isn't used to expose the vapid decadence of this society; indeed, it is absorbed and quickly forgotten. The film ends on a glum note as the stud and the clown indulge in self-pity, but Elton's circle of life is asserted, although now we know it's dark side it seems less amusing.
LES BRONZES can be seen as a kind of Bakhtinian carnival, in which ordered society moves out of normality for a period, plays out its crises and anxieties, desires and dreams, overturning social mores, before returning back to the grind. The film begins in darkened, rain-sodden chaos, as the guests run around in a blur looking for their huts, and ends in restoration, errant couples reunited, even some happiness achieved, society renewed.
Except for one person, an uptight, snobbish, racist, spinsterish cosmetologist - we realise early on that her objectionable personality is only a screen for profound loneliness, and we wince with her at her failed attempts to connect. Her metaphorical banishment from the comic closure leaves rather a sour taste, and is a hint of a misogyny that, some claim, becomes more prominent in Leconte's work.