ND/NF: Vengeance is a dish best served with black comedy in Louise-Michel

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As today’s headlines feature news of massive employment cuts and crooked capitalists receiving handouts, watching Louise-Michel, the newest film from directors Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern (their third together), offers a much-needed laugh about the absurdity of it all.

After an entire factory is cleared away overnight, the duped female workers decide to pool their measly compensation together in order to help each other make a new start. After a few failed suggestions, Louise – the illiterate, pigeon-eating woman with a bloody past – suggests they use the money to hire a hitman to kill their boss. (I mean, who hasn’t fantasized that?) She, of course, hires the most inept killer possible — Michel, a trailer park security guard with a large gun collection and no real skills. The hunt for the boss eventually becomes the hunt for the real-boss in Brussels to the real-real boss in Jersey, a climb up the capitalist hierarchy that only further confuses our heroes and highlights the sheer absurdity of the capitalist system from the viewpoint of the little guy.

Calling Louise and Michel an odd couple is a grand understatement; she is like someone out of the Herzog universe while he is like some parody of a Tarantino gangster. Like the best of screwball comedies, however, the unimaginable pair ends up being meant to be as they fulfill each other’s needs throughout the bizarre journey. All the while Delépine and Kervern accent Louise and Michel’s adventure with the blackest of comedy, mixing humor with the macabre in ways that had me simultaneously laughing and cringing.

The magic of Louise-Michel‘s comedy comes from the use of the still frame. Taking full advantage of the constraints of the frame combined with the use of deep space in ways that would have Jacques Tati smiling from his grave, the gags rely heavily on playing with perception and what we can and cannot see within the frame mixed with what we can hear. At the same time, there are sudden and explicit bursts of violence which punctuate the comedy and underline the absurd quality of the film by its randomness.

Though the real-real bosses in our lives will continue to exist, Louise and Michel’s anarchistic vengeance (indirectly informed by French anarcho-feminist Louise Michel, from whom the directors got their title) offers a brief catharsis by way of laughs, humanity, and a little blood.

-Kazu Watanabe

Buy tickets to Louise-Michel: Sat Mar 28: 9 (FSLC) or Mon Mar 30: 6:15 (MoMA)

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