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January 26, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Louis-Michel


Published 23/10/09 at www.artshub.com.au

Ah, the French. There is nothing like a bit of wacky French comedy to assure you that by European standards, Australian comedy and the dark art of black humour is comparatively lame. Louise-Michel doesn’t just showcase black comedy, it swallows it whole and regurgitates the entire thing back up onto a serving platter.

Louise (Yolande Moreau) is a semi-mute beast of a woman who can barely string two sentences together. Her life consists of trapping pigeons on the rooftop of her apartment block and being ripped off on a regular basis by a con man. When the factory at which she works is shut down, a group of disgruntled, poorly paid employees decide that their inscrutable boss, living pretty on his riches, should bite the dust. They assign Louise the task of tracking down a hitman to complete the dirty deed.

In her own way, Louise succeeds in finding what she is looking for. Her initial attempts to track down a professional fall on deaf ears; she instead enlists the help of Michel (Bouli Lanners), a nutcase with about a much brain capacity as Louise.

Harbouring a collection of illegally-made guns and a penchant for perceiving himself as the next would-be assassin, Michel can’t even wipe out a trailer park pet without wincing, missing his target from a foot away. While he can’t seem to pull the trigger himself on this occasion, there are plenty of other opportunities to be had, and Louise and Michel embark on a murderous, darkly humorous rampage which affects everybody within screaming distance.

As much fun as it is to write about such bleak, ridiculous madness, watching it is more akin to observing a car crash in slow motion. Shards of story flitter through the scenes as almost superfluous additions to the surreal events taking place. More time seems to be spent watching the two main characters talk about inane topics then there is suspense building up toward the moment of vengeance. Yet oddly, this seems to add to the tension, as the sudden spark of violence bursts onto the screen. Some scenes appear to be there just to startle the audience into attention. Nothing is a better accomplice to dark humour than blood, gunshots and insanity—and there is plenty of all three.

Given the provocative and repulsive nature of the plot, most films of this genre aim to allow the audience to somehow connect with the protagonist(s). However, this film tortures you mercilessly by giving you almost no opportunities for connection with the main characters. Louise is almost wholly emotionless, monosyllabic and stupid, while Michel is pathetic, but not endearingly so. His inability to shoot a dog reveals belies weakness rather than mercy, and this is emphasised by his infantile response to his so-called success.

While winning the Special Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival may give this film some credo, it doesn’t give this film license to be called an engaging story. Revenge is so much sweeter when you can thirst for payback just as much as the protagonists. It’s a shame, therefore, that Louise-Michel goes to little effort to provide its characters with a whisper of genuine humanity. It’s something an audience would gratefully use as an excuse to enjoy watching bad people get their comeuppance.

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