Dir:Yves Caumon. Fr. 2005. 91mins.
Amodern rural fable teetering halfway between country-house ghost story andslapstick silent comedy, Peekaboo is a lightweight but originaldivertissement that will amuse Gallic audiences without knocking them sideways.Playing entertainingly with the back-to-nature impulses, and phobias, of theurban bourgeoisie, the film is carried by the wordless central performance ofBernard Blancan as a dispossessed peasant who takes refuge in the bottom of awell when his family's old farmhouse is sold and converted.
Peekaboo! depends for its effect onour finding Blancan's wide-eyed gormlessness endearing rather than irritating;but most viewers will grant their indulgence, and ride the tractor into thefinal hay barn. The film could see some foreign service if pitched to thequirkier, crossover end of the family market.
Thirtyyears after it was last officially inhabited, a crumbling farmhouse is sold toa young urban couple with two kids who have decided to chase the Good Life. WhatCaroline (Lucia Sanchez) and Frederic (Antoine Chappey) fail to realise is thatthe old manor house was not entirely empty. Unable legally to inherit the housewhen his parents died, surviving son Raymond simply camped out in a corner ofthe edifice.
Whenthe builders move in, Raymond is forced to relocate from room to barn tohaystack like a hunted animal; finally, he concretes over the bottom of theabandoned well, and makes that his home.
Raymond'sback story is revealed gradually (we don't even learn his name until an hourin), partly by the terminally anxious local postwoman, partly by the lugubriouslocals in the dentist's surgery where Frederic works, substituting a colleaguewho is close to retirement. This plot detail, and the Parisians-in-the-countrytheme, reminds one of Noemie Lvovsky's 2003 comedy Les Sentiments - asdoes the strong vaudeville colour palette, though here it is mostly confined tothe Tricia-Guild-like decor of the renovated farmhouse and Caroline'speasant-chic garb.
Twelveminutes in, with Raymond ensconced in his new home, Peekaboo! becomes aone-joke film - the joke being that there's a guy in the well. When theydiscover that anything they drop in the well reappears the next morning, thekids realise there's something funny going on; but the parents are cocoonedfrom the truth by... well, being grown-ups.
Caumonand co-scriptwriter Emmanuelle Jacob find entertaining ways to string out thegag - sometimes with pure visual slapstick (Raymond putting his foot in thefish tank as he climbs into the house, or trying to put back one of thosemoo-cow cylinders without it making a noise), sometimes with more metaphysicaltouches (Raymond seeing his reflection in a mirror and staring at himself withsad wonder, Raymond seeing moons and aeroplanes framed in his circular windowon the world).
Thedirector must also be given credit for underplaying his film's symbolic agenda- we're welcome to see Raymond as a metaphor for France's fading ruraltraditions, but we can also read him, more simply, as a misfit who cannotabandon the only home he has ever known.
Strongkey-lighting and an edgy accordion soundtrack play up the twisted side of whatmight otherwise be a family matinee comedy. And in its last 10 minutes, Peekaboo!turns a decidedly darker shade - before delivering a suspended happy ending inthe final frames.
Sunday Morning Productions