Dirs/scr: Benoit Delepine, Gustave Kervern. Fr. 2006. 83mins.

Even by thestandards of their eccentric road comedy debut Aaltra, Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern's Avida - described in the press notes as a 'metaphysicalcomedy' - is bizarre indeed. Starting out as a Tati-esquesilent farce crammed with off-the-wall sight gags, this wayward tale turns intosomething altogether more surreal that can only be compared to a pile-up of Lynch,Jodorowsky, the Goons and conceptual art.

Foranyone not entirely sold on the joys of neo-dada, Avidais likely to wear thin by the 40-minute mark, but the film is worth stickingwith, as it gradually defines its own hermetic universe with total conviction.Even in a specialised field, this grotesque-but-beautiful black-and-whitefeature will be a very difficult sell, but on the festival circuit (itpremiered out of competition at Cannes), its makers should confidently cruiseto cult legend status.

Co-directorKervern plays a bear-like deaf-mute employed by awealthy man (Carriere) to look after his dogs. Afterindirectly causing his employer's death, in a sublimely elaborate set-piececatastrophe, the deaf-mute runs off, and later winds up working in the privatezoo of an unstoppably garrulous millionaire.

Histwo co-workers (Martin and Delepine, the latter habituallywearing a faceful of Scotch tape) delight in firinghypodermic darts full of animal anaesthetic at each other. The men conspire tokidnap a dog, but after an accident at the zoo's lion pit are obliged to get itstuffed in a cheerfully macabre episode.

Anencounter with Avida (Velvet), a large, suicidalAmerican lady, redirects the film into new areas of strangeness, as sheprevails on the conspirators to drag her up a mountain, where she hopes to die.Following an encounter with a tribe of gypsy-like characters who live incupboards, the film concludes with a last-minute shift into colour and a delicious trompe l'oeil homage to Salvador Dali.

Improbablyexecutive-produced by director Mathieu Kassovitz, thefilm features a host of cameos by luminaries including Claude Chabrol, Aki Kaurismaki, regularKati Outinen and legendary Spanish Absurdist director-playwrightFernando Arrabal as a rhino-fighting matador. Thehumour is wildly hit-and-miss, sometimes depending for effect on the sheerly incongruous or inexplicable.

Asthe film goes on, it spins way out of its initial realist milieu into a worldas much mythic as strictly comical. A diverse brew of cultural references -African, Spanish, native American - helps give the saga the metaphysical dimensionthe directors claim for it, while a closing quotation from the native Americansage Chief Seattle, about the linked fates of men and animals, underlines Avida's satiricalthrust.

Free-associativeas the film often feels, the tightness with which it weaves its imagery ensuresthat Avidanever comes across as contrived: its way-out vision has an unmistakable smackof authenticity.

Hugues Poulain's grainy black and white photography give the film a harsh beauty even when stressing thegrotesque or the downright grisly. Given the current dearth of genuinelydistinctive voices from the margins, Delepine and Kervern hit the spot with rare panache.

Production companies
Studio Canal
No Money Productions

International sales
Films Distribution

French distribution
Ad Vitam

Executive producers
Mathieu Kassovitz
Benoit Jaubere

Elisa Larriere

Hugues Poulain

Stephane Elmadjian

Production design
Alain Juteau

Main cast
Benoit Delepine
Gustave Kervern
Velvet Martin
Jean-Claude Carriere
Kati Outinen
Claude Chabrol