Slack Bay (2016) - Bruno Dumont
Being a fan of Bruno Dumont since his debut film, The Life of Jesus, I can't help but find myself astonished by the unique and unpredictable career trajectory of the iconoclast French filmmaker, as he has transitioned from, quiet, meditative storytelling to a more tonally manic style, a strange, intoxicating blend of slapstick, absurdity, and surrealism. His latest film, Slack Bay, continues down this more comedic, absurdist route, being a film that completely defies not just genre description, but any true type of written description, a mapcap, surrealist tale that sees the filmmaker leave his patient, meditative style completely in the dust. Set in the early 1900s, Slack Bay takes place on the beautiful beaches of the Channel Coast, where oddball inspectors Machin and Malfoy have arrived to investigate a series of disappearances. A seaside town made up primarily of small community of fisherman and oyster farmers, Slack Bay becomes a popular destination for the bourgeoisie in the summer time, which presents a unique culture clash between these two classes. The focus of Slack Bay is between the Brefort family, a lower-class, strange family of Oyster farmers, who help transport the wealthy back-and-forth across the bay, and the Van Peteghem family, an extremely wealthy family whose mansion towers high above the bay on the hill. When a peculiar romance between the oldest son of the Brefort family, Ma Loute, and the young Billie Van Petehem unfolds, these two families are thrown into a world of confusion and mystification, with their specific way of life itself shaken at the very foundation. Bruno Dumont's Slack Bay is a peculiar, oddly entrancing experience, a somewhat generic class critique and bourgeoisie satire, that feels nothing but commonplace thanks to Dumont's manic style which grants its actors a unique ability to deliver hyper-reality like performances. Juliette Binoche stands out as Aude, a matriarch of the Van Petehem family, whose unhinged performance perfectly serves the cartoonish, madcap tone Dumont is going for. While Slack Bay's overall point may be a little elusive to some viewers, Dumont's film effectively skewers both the upper and lower class families in over-the-top, surrealist ways. While the Brefort family is presented as near savages, cannibals who devour the rich in order to feed themselves, the Van Petehem family is presented as a group of decadent, yet degenerate individuals, who clearly are seeing the effects of inbreeding. These two families, their cultures, way of life, etc. couldn't be presented as more different, both being very much detached from one-and-other, and through Dumont's absurdest farce, he is highly critical of society as a whole, and the vast disconnect which exists between various classes of society on even the most simplistic scale. A high level farce and biting critique of french society and class struggle, Bruno Dumont's Slack Bay is beguiling and enigmatic at times, though its craft, slapstick humor, and absurdity often offset the depraved story that takes some getting used to.
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