Opening 2 May 2013
A bald head comes into the picture; the word “Not” is tattooed on the forehead. Slowly the entire figure comes to view. It’s Beno Bonzini, a fifty-something hippie on the grungy side. His dog (named 8-6) is tied to his belt with a clothesline. “Not” stands for the English word, as in “not about to accept society per se.” It could just as well stand for the German “Not” as “in poverty or need,” then Beno has nothing. He begs for food and sleeps in play houses in the park. Quite the opposite is his brother Jean-Pierre, middle-class, pedantic, married and father of a small child. He sells mattresses in a nearby mall. The Bonzini family, mother, father, and the two so different, middle-aged sons celebrate their mother’s birthday in the family’s potato restaurant La Pataterie. The best scene comes at this party, when Beno and Jean Pierre talk to the father simultaneously about their lives and philosophy. I was happy to read subtitles in this case, with the two conversations side by side on the screen. By now, you’ve probably guessed that the film is in French.
In the end, one son completely throws over his lifestyle and becomes a mirror version of his brother, and they live happily ever after. Until then we must watch various quarrels, embarrassments, and endless shots of them through the lenses of the many observation cameras in the mall. We learn that their father isn’t their real father; their mother (practically a case for the loony bin) had affairs. They planned to tell the boys “when they grew up, but they never did grow up.”
The original French title, Le Grand Soir, has a deeper meaning for the French, than just the literal one, namely “the evening before the revolution.” The film won the special prize of the jury in the Un Certain Regard category at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It is being sold as an “anarchic comedy with absurd humor.” Whatever. The best part is the talented dog, the very own pet of the main actor: Beno Poelvoorde (who plays Beno Bonzini). This is for you if you like French/Belgian humor, even better if you understand French/Belgian humor. (Becky Tan)