French director Pierre Salvadori balances grief and hilarity seamlessly in this thrilling madcap comedy.
The Trouble With You begins as any cop comedy would: with a bedtime story. Before saying bonne nuit to her son each night, Yvonne tells him about his father, a police detective who kicked in doors, threw punches, and put away France’s worst criminals. The little boy is too young to remember him, but, like the rest of their French Riviera town, idolizes his fallen hero. Yvonne (in a wholehearted performance by Adèle Haenel) soon finds out that her deceased husband was not the hero she thought him to be.
Meanwhile, a young man named Antoine (Pio Marmaï) is released from prison for a crime he did not commit: jewel thievery. Hardened after eight years in the slammer, Antoine is intent on getting revenge on the world.
The two characters’ paths intertwine when Yvonne discovers that her husband staged a jewelry store heist just to give her a necklace. Like Antoine, she feels she has lost eight years of her life. A detective herself, Yvonne tails Antoine to see what’s become of him. But the pair soon find themselves causing more trouble than an entire police department could handle.
Antoine talks to himself, insults old women, bites off ears, and yet he’s likable thanks to Pio Marmaï, who has the same slightly deranged charisma as a young Jack Nicholson. We feel his sense of injustice, that he is owed something. And if that something is the right to hold up a grocery store clerk for cigarettes, so be it.
And fans of Amélie will be glad to know that French star Audrey Tautou tenderly portrays Antoine’s wife, Agnès. Both Tautou and Salvadori (who co-wrote the screenplay) bring depth to an otherwise marginal character. In one of the best moments of the film, Antoine returns to Agnès from prison, but instead of an embrace, she asks him to go back outside and knock again, and again, just to recreate the joy of seeing him at her doorstep after so much time apart.
In fact, every side character feels as completely real as Yvonne and Antoine, including a small man who brings plastic bags full of body parts to the police station, but is ignored by another detective, Louis (Damien Bonnard), who is busy covering up for Yvonne.
Salvadori’s slapstick comedy knows when to make light of tragedy or drama without undermining either. That’s part of what makes The Trouble With You so compelling. It’s the furthest thing from the self-serious nouvelle vague of the 1960s. Instead, it’s a cousin of classic Hollywood, like Lubitsch’s or Chaplin’s intelligent, physical comedies. And yet it’s unequivocally French.
That American influence reaches past the humor, however. Salvadori’s go-to composer, Camille Bazbaz, delivers a soulful, 70s-inspired soundtrack that perfectly matches Yvonne’s action-filled bedtime stories, which could be straight out of a scene from Shaft.
But it’s the film’s original title — En Liberté! (Unleashed!) — that sums it up best. What to do when you’re fresh out of jail, or if you find out the law is not watertight? Have some fun. Don’t take the law (or life) so seriously.
We screened the film at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and UniFrance’s RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA Opening Night.
Photo Courtesy of mk2 Films.