Farcemeat

Turning a common theme into an uncommonly charming film.

LOTS OF AMERICANS detest upscale Parisian men. (For that matter, so do many French women.) They are said to be high-minded, self-obsessed, sexually crude beasts intent on destroying the wills of everyone they meet.

The Dinner Game

directed by Francis Veber

opens August 6 at Guild 45th

Francis Veber's brisk comedy The Dinner Game finds les hommes fran缯I>ais guilty as charged. The writer and director, whose films have been remade into Hollywood blockbusters (Buddy, Buddy; The Man with One Red Shoe; and soon The Dinner Game) uses his latest work to penetrate the highfalutin lifestyle of the attractive and privileged by contrasting it with the comparatively style-less lives of the ordinary working class.

Veber limits the playing field to the tastefully decorated home of the publishing executive Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) and his lovely wife Christine (Alexandra Vandernoot). Seated on his expensive sofa at the outset of The Dinner Game, Brochant fights both a back injury and his wife, who's dismayed that her husband is about to attend another of the cruel gatherings from which the film gets its title. Each week, these successful Parisian men hunt down an idiot, a sadly naive soul who delights in something as nondescript as the boomerang and needs only the gentlest nudge to expound on the subject at length.

For this night's event, Brochant has secured a "world champion" specimen, as he puts it: a Finance Ministry accountant named Francois Pignon (Jacques Villeret), whose hobby is to construct facsimiles of monuments and bridges with matchsticks (and to insist that anyone near him see photos of his models). As Brochant awaits the arrival of his idiot, his wife leaves in a huff and a doctor forbids him from going to the dinner—though the sophisticated doc chuckles at the idea of the game.

Pignon arrives, and it's clear that he believes Brochant has invited him to the dinner as a prelude to a book deal. In his excitement, Pignon injures Brochant's back further, making it nearly impossible for the publisher to move. As he's laid out on the floor, Christine calls, and, when he doesn't pick up, she talks into the machine. She's left him, and she provides no way to contact her. Having been dumped himself, Pignon can empathize, and he makes it his immediate goal to help Brochant track down Christine. But the idiot's detective work triggers miscue upon miscue, as each phone call he makes brings unwanted acquaintances into the picture, including Brochant's neurotic mistress. With each additional dilemma, Brochant seethes, especially because he'll need the bumbling Pignon to stay and help set things right.

Lhermitte and Villeret exert impeccable comic timing as each hilarious scene unfolds and connects, and the relationship they form as characters drives home Veber's social commentary. The perfectly coiffed and smartly dressed Brochant, so much more refined than the sweaty and awkward Pignon, must suffer the indignity of sinking to the level of his fellow man. It's a common cinematic theme, but The Dinner Game's mix of farce and finesse makes it new—and hilarious.

 
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