Dir/scr: Damien Odoul. France. 2004. 80mins

Cannes simply would not be Cannes without at least onehighly-rated French auteur coming a cropper. This year it was the turn ofDamien Odoul, who made a dazzling debut in 2000 with Le Souffle, adream-like rural coming-of-age drama.

Havinglost momentum with his prestigiously cast follow-up L'Errance, Odoul no doubt felt he was getting back to basics withthe digitally-shot, largely improvisational After We're Gone, whichplayed in Directors' Fortnight. But the film is a gross miscalculation,self-indulgent even by the usual standards of films about avant garde dramatroupes staging freakouts in remote chateaux.

Theatricalprospects look minimal and festival prospects will be dependent on the goodwillgenerated by Le Souffle.

PierreRichard, much-loved star of 1970s French screen comedy, plays Jean-Rene, anelderly man living in a crumbling rural pile with his manservant, gardener andadopted son Pipo (Terperaud), whom he dresses in his late wife's frocks fordance sessions. Learning his days are numbered, Jean-Rene hires a theatretroupe to stage the myth of Dionysus.

Firstto arrive are producer Yves (Odoul) and actress Milena (Mouglalis), who joinJean-Rene at table and promptly start bickering. They are followed by the restof the troupe including the director (Durif) and his companion Ingrid (Astier),who soon takes up with their venerable host.

Apartfrom her attentions, however, Jean-Rene - as suggested by numerous close-ups ofPierre Richard's forlorn features - must be wondering why he ever invited thesebuffoons. Far from putting on a show, the troupe spends its time picnicking,chanting, smashing plates and, once in a while, stripping off on the boatinglake, apparently in the interests of rehearsal.

Frenchart cinema has an honourable history of film exploring its own nature bystudying that of theatre, a drama-as-psychodrama tradition most notablyrepresented by Jacques Rivette. Odoul's attempt is a nadir of the genre, anexcruciatingly precious exercise that in its own way is as narcissistic asVincent Gallo's already-legendary dud The Brown Bunny, but nowhere nearas entertaining. It is conceivable that Odoul is parodying himself in some ofthe more portentous moments - "I'm hot. I'm also cold. I'm hot, I'm cold,"complains Yves - but if so, the joke soon wears thin.

Thefilm is largely about its own experimental methods. The script was written theday before shooting, sometimes even three hours before, with the cast livingtogether on location and required to be available night or day, sometimeswithout warning. The digital camerawork, partly shot by Odoul himself, isuniformly muddy and uninteresting, except for a too-brief soft-focus sequenceapparently shot from a hot-air balloon.

Asthe cast subsides into hysteria, Richard acquits himself with dignity, evenwhen prancing about with riding boots on his arms, and Mouglalis hints at therudiments of a sensually neurotic character.

Odoul,however, does himself no favours by appearing, and the scene where his Yvesgoes to Jene-Rene for an impromptu therapy session makes it only too clear thathe is asking the audience to play shrink to his neuroses. Horribly reminiscentof 1960s happenings, this barely-watchable farrago is a cinematic dead end.

Conspiracytheorists might even wonder whether the whole exercise is an attempt todiscredit the part-time showbiz workers - the intermittents du spectacle -whose protests caused ructions at Cannes.

Prodcos: D.O.Films, Yo Yo Prod
Int'l sales:
Wild Bunch
Prod des:
Jean Holtzmann
Main cast:
Pierre Richard, Anna Mouglalis, Damien Odoul, Eugene Durif,Ingrid Astier Stephane Terperaud