Dir/scr. Arnaud & Jean-Marie Larrieu.France. 2008. 102 mins.
A marital farce about misunderstandings, the great blue yonder and (apparently supernatural) gender-swapping, Journey To The Pyrenees is brisk, witty and often daft. This love letter to the film-makers’ native region is a gift for its two leads, Sabine Azema and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, and its humour will have some viewers in raptures, although more may head for the hills. At the very least, the film offers something like a return to form for the Larrieu brothers after the stuffy disappointment of their 2005 Cannes competition entrant To Paint Or Make Love.
The film should perform well when it opens in France in July - partly thanks to its well-liked stars. Elsewhere, it’s a tougher call.
Azema and Darroussin play Aurore and Alexandre, a couple of well-known screen actors on holiday on the Pyrenees. They’re there to help Aurore get over a troublesome bout of nymphomania, a condition that Alexandre is convinced the region will cure, as it helped him conquer his own teenage sexual urges.
However the local rugged male talent has quite the opposite effect. Another problem is that neurotic Aurore is terrified of bears, which thrive in the locality. Tenzing (Gurgon), the Tibetan husband of hoteli貥 Aline (Jover) explains that it’s only by looking directly into a bear’s eyes that Aurore will be cured.
It’s when the bear turns up - manifestly a man in a furry suit, played by Cyril Casm躥 - that things get very bizarre indeed. Aurore has a closer encounter with the beast than expected, then runs amok as a wild woman. Three skinny-dipping folk-singing monks turn up, Alexandre finds he can speak Tibetan thanks to magic mushrooms, and Aurore and Alexandre finally resolve their marital problems in a freak body swap.
This very uneven romp veers between sophisticated, knowing humour, and something closer to comic-strip surrealism - and it’s usually in the former register that it works best. Increasingly episodic, the film ends up coming alive only intermittently, and when the couple pack their bags and leave, you can’t help feeling that they and the film have slightly outstayed their welcome.
Still, there are ample touches of the very distinctive humour that marked the Larrieu brothers’ formally inventive debut feature A Real Man (2003). Azema, thankfully, is kept on a a rather tighter leash than she was in To Paint or Make Love, although she’s still prone to be a little flighty under her bizarre scarecrow hairstyle. But she’s well matched with Darroussin, one of the most dependably likeable of French actors, whose unflappable, self-effacing sang froid pretty much sustains the film’s comic coherence. As for the Pyrenees, the Larrieus and DoP Guillaume Deffontaines do the region proud in some magnificent vistas.
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