Death At a Funeral

Marcy is taking over reviewing duties for this one, so I’ll make it short: Frank Oz’s morbid farce is the funniest movie I’ve seen this year so far. We’ll have the review up on World/Independent Film before the June 29 opening.

Death At a Funeral. Frank Oz, 2007. ****

The trailer ruins a few surprises but not all the best laughs:



“One day, they won’t say ‘speak French to me,’ they will say: speak to me in the language of Molière!” Says Molière, played by an exuberant Romain Duris, waving his tankard before he falls of the tavern table, much to the amusement of the assembled Parisians. But we all know it’s true. And once a country’s Greatest Writer has been canonized, it’s only a matter of time before he gets a movie that conflates his life with his work in the style of Shakespeare in Love and Factotum. Unrestrained by fact, the liberties taken by this approach are more shapely and palpable than the usual flabby biopic. Molière turns out to be an especially endearing attempt at the budding subgenre.

The film uses an undocumented period in Molière’s life to imagine the genesis of his play Tartuffe–which allows writer and director Laurent Tirard to have fun with the classic comedy. The story begins in 1658, when the actor is offered a deal he can’t refuse: Monsieur Jordain (Fabrice Luchini), a wealthy merchant, will pay off Molière’s debt if he trains him as an actor to impress the haughty widow Célimène (Ludivine Sagnier). For this task, Moliere takes the name of Tartuffe, pretends to be a priest, and moves into Jordain’s house–which leads to all sorts of farcial and amorous hijinx involving Jordain’s wife (Laura Morante), daughter (Fanny Valette), dog, and scheming society friends.

Accomplished and witty, the film even manages to wring morsels of truth out of the highly entertaining complications: who knew Jean-Baptiste Molière was the artistic forebear of Preston Sturges’ Sullivan, endlessly distraught over the value of comedy? Molière is scheduled to open on July 27.

Molière. Laurent Tirard, 2007. ****


Thanks to Jordan’s line on cheap tickets, we checked out the new Mamet play last night. “Romance” is a deliciously angry farce in which the all-male cast, largely confined to a court room, spews hatred at one another for long stretches of time, when they’re not busy cutting each other off, vintage Mamet-style. (“Sheeny kike Christkilling cocksucker” is one of the gentler insults. Retort: “Is little Tommy limping when he comes home from communion?”) Ostensibly, the play is about a — you know what, just read the review in the Guardian. And see this if you can: Mamet’s in fine form.

Mamet’s fictive courtroom owes a debt to Lewis Carroll and Kafka. A Jewish chiropractor is in the dock for some unspecified offence; as proceedings spiral out of control, private fears are publicly revealed. The judge is a nervous racist who at one point enquires if Shakespeare was a Jew. The prosecutor is an establishment pillar tormented by his gay lover. In the play’s most biliously comic scene, the defendant consults with his loathed Catholic attorney: “God forgive me, what have I done?” he asks. “I hired a Goy lawyer! It’s like going to a straight hairdresser.” To which his anti-semitic attorney responds: “You people can’t even order a cheese sandwich without mentioning the Holocaust.” That’s just for openers in a breathtaking catalogue of racist abuse.

Interview in New York
The NYT: “pushing an envelope that has already been through the shredder.”