The story of two half-brothers – one a punk (Benoét Poelvoorde), the other a 'good' boy (Albert Dupontel) – go on a road trip together learn the meet their father for the first time.
FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL: The French writing and directing team of Gustave de Kervern and Benoét Delépine are good-hearted absurdists. The Big Night, the follow-up to their offbeat 2010 road movie Mammuth, is not so much a celebration of the individual as a reminder of the world’s innate lack of interest in such minor concerns. Drily funny, this journey into the heart of darkness at a French shopping mall deserves kudos for bypassing easy conclusions or sudden shifts into sentiment. Befitting the ethos the characters embrace, the picture is blithely unconcerned with outside expectation.
the picture is blithely unconcerned with outside expectation
First seen together jabbering at their father, Rene (Areski Belkacem), as if neither has even noticed that the other is also present, 40-something brothers 'Not’ and Jean-Pierre are a study in contrasting attitudes. Not, formerly Benoit, is a homeless punk whose thinning Mohawk leave plenty of room on his forehead for a crude tattoo of his anti-social-embracing name; Jean-Pierre is a married father and bedding salesman with happily developed consumerists tastes.
But the gangly Not, despite his occasional bursts of anger, is easily the more content of the two, even as he kips out in roundabouts with his dog 8-6. Jean-Pierre, however, finds his life swiftly unraveling: his marriage is over, his wife has confiscated their savings – 'if you ask me, joint accounts take the mystery out of love," observes a sanguine bank clerk – and the threat of being retrenched has him manically charging around the mall trying to find customers.
Without the support of his parents – his mother (Brigitte Fontaine) misplaces his baby daughter, his tired father alleges that neither boy is his offspring – Jean-Pierre spins out of control, but the tone never changes, and even an attempt at suicide, setting himself alight in a department store while screaming 'justice", literally fizzles out when the sprinklers automatically douse him. The rest of the world barely notices, but the broken everyman is denied even an ending of his choice.
The directors use long, static takes and multiple security camera feeds to accentuate the idea that the world is on auto-pilot and that the brothers have fallen outside the programmed parameters. The only person who notices Jean-Pierre is Not, who instead of recognising a mental illness issue just shaves his sibling’s head and gives him a matching forehead tattoo to his own that read dead. The two go on random rampages around the mall, but their shenanigans aren’t tied to heartfelt discussions of their rapprochement. Instead, they start a riot at a wedding reception and then pass out.
The idea of punk, that negation is a form of validation, circulates through the film’s deadpan philosophy, especially when Not and Jean-Pierre eventually announce a meeting in a car park to plan a revolutionary action and no-one shows up. The pair are barely dismayed, and instead focus on asserting their own identities. The Big Night does the same with the conventions of social-realist cinema, as a soulless shopping mall a natural home for a pair of outsiders. In this eccentric world, where Gerard Depardieu plays a fortune-teller, no-one knows what will come next, but there’s little to fear.