Grosse fatigue

(Dead Tired, France - 1994)

by Mike Lorefice

Cast: Michel Blanc, Carole Bouquet, Josiane Balasko, Philippe Noiret
Genre: Comedy/Satire/Thriller
Director: Michel Blanc
Screenplay: Michel Blanc
Cinematography: Eduardo Serra
Composer: Rene-Marc Bini
Runtime: 92 minutes

"You'd be happy to look like him?" - Michel Blanc

In comedian Michel Blanc's 2nd feature as writer and director, a daring highly intelligent satire on the world of a movie star where every name "plays themselves," it's no bargain for either of them. The film requires the suspension of disbelief because you must accept that not only does Blanc have a twin impersonator, seemingly every movie star is eventually replaced by their double. If you are willing to enter Blanc's world though, you'll be rewarded with many smiles on your face.

It's bad enough that the original Blanc is an exhausted fading star in his mid 40's who hasn't finished a script in 7 years (actually 10) and is said to be overpaid by the studio (in the French system, the salary of the star remains the same even after a string of failures). To make things much worse, his double is soiling his name by emceeing topless contests at a seedy bar, getting dunked like a clown as Super Market entertainment, and committing various crimes. The double, really named Patrick Olivier (Blanc), went crazy from enduring all Blanc's "duds" and "unvaried roles" and not being able to be anything but Blanc minus the paychecks. When he tried to get a real job, everyone thought the comic was pulling one of his gags. In fact, there's a good scene where Blanc tries explaining Patrick to the police, but everyone on duty pulls up a chair and they give him a big ovation when his "story" is over telling him "Act in our Nativity Pageant with us next Christmas." Anyway, Patrick was flocked by adoring fans and annoying media whether he liked it or not, so he had to try to make the best of the situation.

"The public gets their money's worth," says Patrick when he offers to form a tag team with Blanc. Blanc can take all the roles he wants and leave the appearances and the acting he does for money to Patrick, "an actor's dream." He could also take a long vacation and let Patrick fill in for a while. Blanc asserts that it's fraud, but the film is pretty persuasive in favor of Patrick's theory that "your public won't complain."

"We thought you were a fag ever since you played a drag queen (in Menage)." The central theme is that we don't know the celebrities, we just assume we do. Carole Bouquet's maid thinks the depressed Blanc is suicidal. "He's just like my cousin Albert: tiny and homely. One day we found him hanging over the toilet." Mainly it tackles this through the blending in people's minds of the on screen personality with the real person. Seeing Balasko's picture at Blanc's house, this same policeman says "Good actress, I hear she's a dyke." In spite of Blanc, who's known her well for two decades, denying this he asserts "My brother-in-law in the Vice Squad says so." Sometimes they are just dumped into one big group, like when an onlooker explains Blanc's weight gain by saying "It's normal. All movie stars drink." When the wrongly accused Blanc is released from jail, an officer asks him, "Can you sign the guest book? Most of your colleagues already have." Ultimately, everyone's blindness to the real person is the reason their double can not only replace them, but make them appear to be the substitute. Pity the life of the star, it's a constantly misunderstood existence of constant harassment because their image makes everyone perceive them as special and worthy of attention. Oh woe is them…

While I obviously don't support rape, I can't help but laugh at the idea of Josiane Balasko being raped by Blanc's double because "seeing her tied to the radiator was too much. I'm only human." Balasko, best remembered here as the unattractive dumpy secretary Gerard Depardieu left Bouquet for (they've actually become a couple in real life) in the very good Bertrand Blier film Trop belle pour toi (Too Beautiful for You) and her own good film Gazon maudit (French Twist) where she plays the butch truck driver/plumber that wins the love of the previously straight Victoria Abril away from her womanizing homophobic husband played by Alain Chabat, is about the last French actress any guy would want to rape. The highlight of Balasko's small role is when she explains what she's accusing Blanc of at the police station. While being restrained by police officers, the incensed Balasko screams at the clueless Blanc "And you didn't make me come. I faked it so you'd leave." Later Bouquet tells Blanc he shouldn't be a nervous wreck and he replies, "I forget I raped Balasko and I shouldn't panic?" It's also funny because it's a play off the aforementioned Blier movie due to Balasko again being chosen over the stunning Chanel spokesmodel and Bond babe Bouquet, who later tries to sucker "Patrick" into raping her saying "Manhandle me, Patrick. Be vulgar. What's so special about Balasko?"

Blanc doesn't limit his shots to people outside his circle, he spares no one. He shows the actors are too concerned with their own success to take the time to form quality relationships. To do so, he stages the screen reunion of his closest group of friends, the "Splendid" band. The core of the group this group was Blanc, Balasko, Thierry Lhermitte (one of the only French actors without an artistic agent), Gerard Jugnot, & Christain Clavier (the "spiritual son" of popular deceased actor Louis de Funes). They were comedians that drew attention from their stage plays in the 1970's, and thus began appearing in films. Patrice Leconte used them in 1978 when he directed the adaptation of their play, the cult movie Les bronzés (French Fried Vacation). It's said to be more an accumulation of gags than anything else, but a hilarious movie and a very satirical painting of the mediocre French "middlemen." The 1979 sequel Les Bronzés font du ski, also helmed by Leconte, is supposed to be even more ferocious and funny. Their greatest is supposed to be the adaptation of their biggest stage success Le père Noël est une ordure. I'm not sure if it was released here or we only got the lame remake Mixed Nuts, but it means Santa Claus is a piece of trash and it's one of those movies so funny that it's fans memorize every line. They did a few other movies together like the supposedly great "Papy fait de la resistance" before splitting in the early '80's. Since then most of them have got into directing as well as continuing to act. Jugnot, a sensitive director concerned with the society's social problems, is supposed to be the best of the bunch behind the camera. His films center on the mediocre French man, a person whose neither hero nor complete asshole, but who circumstances can easily turned into one of these two. His best known movie here is Une époque formidable, a very bittersweet comedy about unemployed people becoming homeless. Anyway, in Grosse fatigue Patrick is sitting at the table with Splendid and they all denounce Michel as the imposter. Balasko then grabs Blanc by the balls and asks him "Where's your hard-on? You miss the radiator?" and gives him a low knee.

The "closest" star to Blanc in the film is Bouquet. She's worried that Blanc has already given the lead role he just offered her to the far superior Emmanuelle Beart. This leads to one of the best reality blends where she says she's going to discuss it with Michel calmly then we see her enter a restaurant yelling "Dirty bastard! I'll blast your brains out!" and seemingly killing him. Of course, this is just a scene in the action movie she's filming, but in Grosse fatigue Bouquet carries that strong aggressive action oriented persona of her "film" character whenever any opportunity presents itself.

Little does Bouquet, who goes way out of her way to help Blanc finish his vehicle for her, know it's much worse. Blanc, who puts himself through every form of abuse, offered the role to Mathilda May (a highly attractive but probably not all that talented actress best known here for her nude scenes as the Space Girl in Tobe Hooper's otherwise forgettable vampires from outer space flick Lifeforce and as an old flame of Richard "One" Gere in the unwatchable "non-remake" of Fred Zinnemann's very highly regarded political thriller The Day of the Jackal) until he found out she wouldn't sleep with him because "you never turned me on." Despite his fame that keeps him from having a moment's peace in public, not only can't the pasty little bald actor get any even in exchange for a starring role, he's so desperate for money he stoops to stealing from Charlotte Gainsbourg's purse after she turns down his advances. Ultimately though, it's Blanc's freeloading double that is perpetrating these shenanigans both for his own enjoyment and to destroy Michel, so you can figure out the joke on Beart.

The film is loaded with cameo appearances. I found Roman Polanski's to be the funniest. Despite directing Blanc in Le Locataire (The Tenant) he doesn't recognize Blanc or the legendary Philippe Noiret, but as they accidentally wonder into his shot he decides to hire them because he needs two extras to play waiters.

Those who were too busy to be involved in Grosse fatigue are talked about instead. While I don't overly disagree with Bouquet's line "Neurotic clowns bore me stiff" about Woody Allen (she worked with him in the Allen/Francis Ford Coppola/Martin Scorsese anthology piece New York Stories, which boasts a very good third from Scorsese but not much else), Gerard Depardieu is the butt of the funniest jokes on those unable to defend themselves. Blanc's hotel booking for the Cannes Film Festival was "accidentally cancelled," so they give him the room of Depardieu who is off in Bulgaria wine-tasting. Blanc tells the clerk, "Change the sheets. With Depardieu you never know." Later Patrick proves that Blanc isn't the only actor with a double by asking "Ever wonder how Depardieu makes so many movies? It's humanly impossible."

Ultimately the film is self-aggrandizing. Bouquet is not only sweet, simple, and accessible, she's beautiful enough to make a paralyzed man walk. Depardieu is simply able to star in three movies a year because he's the hardest working actor. This, of course, comes as no surprise. I mean, the only person who would put themselves and their friends through so much self-parody for the point of saying they were all bad people would be the one that had a heel persona to begin with.

Blanc shows more visual style and lighting proficiency than the vast majority of French performers who take an occasional turn behind the camera. He obviously paid attention to what the directors he was working for were doing. While I'm not familiar with many of Blanc's films, the influence of Patrice Leconte is readily obvious although he should have hired Michael Nyman to do his score because Rene-Marc Bini's isn't very impressive. The scenes where the "two" Blanc's are on the screen together are all credible, and filmed impressively enough that the film won the Technical Grand Prize at Cannes. Unfortunately, aside from the climactic scene at the jewelry store that's brilliant satire on fandom, the craving to watch, the inability to differentiate the reality from the fiction, the salacious and clueless nature of the media, and phony psychiatric observations, the thriller scenes don't work all that well. There's a stupid scene Bouquet shoots up a grocery store to stop Patrick from escaping from her, but in spite of regular police harassment of Blanc they apparently never hear about this incident because the patrons are more shocked and/or impressed that Blanc & Bouquet are a couple. This at least has a point, more than I can say for the chase scenes that do nothing beyond breaking up the talking that French films are so famous or infamous for.

"French cinema is now the Unknown Soldier." The film traces the decline of the French film industry through more subtle ways like Blanc's "poverty" before Noiret specifically complains about the crap French filmgoers are watching these days. Although still the richest country for film history and by far the best at producing actors (believable people rather than the overacted nonsense Hollywood regularly turns out), our crappy blockbusters litter their theatres and it's rare that one of their own products is the top grossing film. When the French films take in 40% of the week's box office, it's a big deal. Noiret says, "Before they sold love and adventure. Now they sell pre-shit food."

Blanc does much better when he forgets about the thriller aspect and sticks to pure comedy because he understands the irony of his story and what aspects of the performers and their personas will be funny. Ultimately though, many of the most successful comedians, John Candy for example, are the tormented souls that make fun of their own (at least seemingly) legitimate torment. Blanc is not a handsome man, but understands how to exploit his odd look and small stature perfectly, even in a serious role like Leconte's great Monsieur Hire. His hilarious script, which won Best Screenplay at Cannes and was nominated for the Cesar, is largely funny because we are laughing at his flaws as well as say Bouquet complaining about her cold and inaccessible typecast that should finally be broken down after her excellent work in Depardieu's Un pont entre deux rives (The Bridge). Where it goes astray is after Patrick has become the real Michel Blanc and we are suddenly supposed to believe that the casting agent can't even tell Blanc is his own double, so Blanc apologizes, "I'm tired. With make up…" I mean, you can get into all the possible methods of identification that Blanc should pursue to prove he's really Blanc, but it's a fun reach that he doesn't. This, on the other hand, is a stupid reach.

Blanc's performance deserves much credit. His expressions are always exceptional, and in this case really magnify his physical liabilities. More importantly, like Jeremy Irons in the David Cronenberg masterpiece Dead Ringers, he perfectly nuances himself and Patrick so they are two unique personalities that can be differentiated as soon as they are supposed to be.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of Grosse fatigue will vary depending on how familiar you are with French cinema and the people involved. Some of the references and homages were obviously to movies I'd never seen or even heard of, but it's not like Vince Russo's booking where only the hardest of the hardcore wrestling fans will have any idea what they are talking about. For the most part it explains itself, but there's definitely more riches than I can put a finger on at the moment.





* Copyright 2002 - Raging Bull Movie Reviews *