Dir: Alain Guiraudie. France-Austria. 2003. 105mins.

Self-taught director Alain Guiraudie's first film to break the 60-minute barrier is the live-action, rural French answer to Waking Life, Richard Linklater's animated, urban American dream spiel. In both films we are plunged straight into the metaphysical dilemmas of a group of predominantly male alter egos; in both films it is difficult to work out at any given time which level of the dream within a dream we have touched down in. Guiraudie, though, has a far more accessible sense of humour than the dry and wordy Linklater: and it is this often hilarious kookiness (like Jacques Tati on acid, or Charlie Kaufman au vin) that saves this surreal road movie from the risk of self-indulgent pretension that hangs over it like a sword of Damocles. The young, predominantly French audience that applauded the film after its first Directors' Fortnight screening at Cannes is probably a blueprint for its commercial prospects: a likely indie sleeper in France, it will need critical support and careful targeting at a 20- to 40-year-old street-smart audience to fare well abroad. But with its cult potential, No Rest For The Brave should have a longer than average DVD and video shelf-life.

The film opens in a bar somewhere in the rural south of France, where Basile (Suire) is explaining to the geeky, post-adolescent Igor (Blanchard) about a dream he had the previous night involving a parallel universe called Faftao-Laoupo, a place of 'imminent final rest' to which Basile will be summoned as soon as he succumbs to sleep. Like a wired festival journo, Basile decides to cram as much as he can into his last day: so after killing all the inhabitants of his sleepy village, he sets off on a voyage of discovery - which he may or may not be dreaming up. He is pursued by the bored, spotty Igor (a kind of Gallic Wayne) and the freelance investigator and small-time thief Johnny Gott, who himself is being pursued by an odd couple of local underworld bosses.

There is more, much more. Sometimes, in trying too hard to be wacky, the director embarrasses himself - notably in a bar scene in which two goat-herd guitarists thrash out the Sex Pistols' Pretty Vacant while Basile services a provincial peroxide blonde on the billiard table. But there are other moments when understatement and comic timing work in the cause of hilarity: one of the best comes early on, when a long, static take of Igor pacing back and forth in front of an open window, occasionally peering out, builds cataclysmic expectations in the audience, which are finally deflated by Igor's out-of-frame voice-over: 'I can't believe how bored I am.'

Guiraudie's influences are as much literary as cinematic: the work of the Surrealists and the Oulipo group of literary pranksters comes through in touches such as the dislocation of those French road signs that announce entry to and exit from even the smallest village: places in this parallel universe are called the likes of Buenazeres, Glasgaud, Oncongue (say them out loud). Visually, tricks are played with colours (bright orange and yellow recur in cars, T-shirts and bobble hats as iconic markers) and filters that give landscapes a Gothic tinge. Though it is by no means flawless, No Rest For The Brave places its maverick director firmly on the radar screen of talents to watch.

Prod co: Paulo Films
Amour Fou Filmproduktion
Int'l sales:
The Coproduction Office
Nathalie Eybrard, Jean-Philippe Labadie
Gabriele Kranzelbinder, Alexander Dumreicher-Ivanceanu
Antoine Heberle
Prod des:
Eric Moulard
Pierre Molin
Bruno Izarin, Jacques Mestres. (Teppaz & Naz Orchestra)
Main cast:
Thomas Suire, Thomas Blanchard, Laurent Soffiati, Vincent Martin, Pierre Maurice-Nouvel, Roger Guidone, Nicole Huc