Slack Bay (3 stars)

Slack Bay

Juliette Binoche is amongst the esteemed players classing up Bruno Dumont's exuberant farce

A classy ensemble give it some welly in Slack Bay, a farcical film which affords its audience the chance to see that mistress of exquisite agony Juliette Binoche camp it up like a member of the Ab Fab troupe. It returns French writer-director Bruno Dumont to the madcap murder mystery territory of P'tit Quinquin, his mini-series which also graced cinemas; but, whilst its grotesques are as colourful, its satire is a touch obvious and its shtick becomes repetitive.

Set in summer, 1910, it sees portly police chief Machin (Didier Després) and his youthful sidekick Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux) look into the disappearance of holidaymakers in the titular Slack Bay, where the river Slack and Channel Coast merge at high tide.

The (incompetent) investigations of these Hergé-esque creations play havoc with Machin's waistline and bring them into contact with two families from different ends of the social spectrum: the affluent Van Peteghems, led by patriarch André (Fabrice Luchini) and wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), and the brood of ferryman Brufort (Thierry Lavieville), known as 'The Eternal'. When the eldest Brufort boy – the eccentrically monikered Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville) – falls for the gender-fluid Billie Van Peteghem (Raph), their liaison sends Billie's mother Aude (Binoche) into a major flap.

While the lower classes are portrayed as grubby, ill-tempered and worse, it's easy to sympathise with their treatment at the hands of the bourgeoisie and to gawp along with them at the clueless antics of these desperately unworthy overlords, who Dumont lays into with delicious zeal. Unashamedly inbred, painfully imbecilic and bone idle, the Van Peteghems are as impossible to like as they are amusing to watch, although there's a hint of pathos in young Billie's plight. Pity the children, as they say.

The mystery element is non-existent since the cannibalistic culprits are not exactly discreet and the slapstick eventually wears thin over the excessive runtime. But it's played vigorously by a game cast. And, as characters topple and tumble, float up in the air, hee-haw with laughter and feast on body parts, Slack Bay is speckled with hilarity. Set amongst the sea and sand dunes and far from cinematic business-as-usual, think of it like a holiday – a sojourn from sanity.

Selected release from Fri 16 Jun.

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