Screened at Berlin (Panorama). Dir: Jean-Jacques Beineix. France-Germany. 2000. 122mins.

Marking Jean-Jacques Beineix's return to theatrical features after an eight-year absence, Mortal Transfer is a disappointingly minor excursion into black comedy-cum-psycho-thriller territory. Taken at its most undemanding level of entertainment, the film's macabre farce and its cast of eccentrics are mildly amusing, but Beineix is unable to fuse the story's psychoanalytical trappings and the clunky graveside humour. Though comedy has never been his forte, the producer-writer-director invested $2m of his own money in this $7m Franco-German co-production, which, after a chilly critical reception at home, may have an uphill struggle on the international market.

Adapted from a 1997 French print thriller, the script contrives to have bored Paris psychoanalyst Jean-Hugues Anglade nodding off during a session with a flighty, upper-class S&M-loving kleptomaniac (Fougerolles) only to awaken to find his client dead on the couch. Having perjured himself to cover up for one of her recent shoplifts, and fearing he may himself have strangled her in a trance, he decides to dispose of the body rather than report the crime to the police.

This leads to a series of distended farcical set-pieces as Anglade repeatedly shoves the corpse beneath his couch to make way for his other clients (none of whom notice the unusual smell), then hustles it downstairs (past a blind neighbour) and across the ice-covered street to the trunk of his Cadillac. His misadventures continue at the cemetery when he tries to dump the body into a long-forgotten grave.

Anglade's efforts are complicated by a number of disquieting busybodies and intruders, including his cleaning lady; his own shrink (Hirsch); a police detective friend (Polyades); the dead woman's corrupt, brutal businessman hubby (Renier), who is out to recover the millions Fougerolles has presumably stolen from him; an immigrant street cleaner clad in a Santa Claus suit and trundling a mysterious shopping cart (Manojlovic); and, in the film's clumsiest stab at bad taste black comedy, a wannabe necrophile disc-jockey (Leibman) who is only too glad to help Anglade at the cemetery.

Setting the surreal story in a hyperrealistic holiday-season Paris slumbering under a light blanket of snow, Beineix wraps the material in a visually captivating sheen that has become his trademark but which is largely unsuited to the comedy.

Prod cos: Cargo Films (Paris), Odeon (Germany). Int'l sales: Bavaria Film International. Prod: Jean-Jacques Beineix. Scr: Beineix, from the novel by Jean-Pierre Gattegno. Cinematographer: Benoit Delhomme. Ed: Yves Deschamps. Prod des: Philippe Chiffre. Costume des: Fabienne Katany. Music: Reinhard Wagner. Main cast: Jean-Hugues Anglade, Helene Fougerolles, Robert Hirsch, Miki Manojlovic, Robert Hirsch, Valentina Sauca.