In order to categorize the new film from actor turned actor-director Louis-Do de Lencquesaing a “comedy,” the viewer has to lead to a few assumptions. Because de Lencquesaing (“Cache” he starred in, “In a Rush” he wrote, directed and co-starred in) doesn’t explain jack during the course of it.
In “The Holy Family (La sainte famille)” the director/co-writer plays a French academic. We’re never given his credentials or any explicit notion of what he does. Let’s assume he’s a bioethicist with a theological bent, as we meet him giving a lecture on “the mystery” of life’s beginning.
“Mystery is the most precious thing,” he declares, stirring up a little ire among scientists. He’d like that mystery preserved.
That gets the attention of the government, which we assume is conservative and isn’t keen on all of the mystery of “the fabrication of life” being unraveled, either. For political reasons.
We can assume Jean, his character, is of a like mind — being rich and Catholic and all. We see him dash off to the funeral of his family’s longtime housekeeper/caregiver/nanny in Barcelona.
But when the government names him “Minister of Family” matters, charged with setting policy on reproductive, sexual identity and other very personal “family” issues, we wonder if Jean is the right fellow for the job. So does he. Eventually.
Because his family? It’s messy, even by the famously lax standards of the French.
Wife Marie (Léa Drucker) is 40something, some sort of engineer/architect jetting back and forth to a harbor renovation gig in Tangier. She’s pregnant, she tells him.
“If we keep it, are we staying together?” she wonders (in French, with English subtitles).
“Were we splitting up?”
They’re having problems, as her many trips to Morocco, the little flashes of rebellion of teen daughter by Marie’s first marriage Léonore (Billie Blain) and the signs that Jean has a wandering eye tell us.
There was this sexy cousin (Laura Smet) he ran into at the caretaker’s funeral. Do they have history? There’s his eagerness to take any call insisting “we meet in person” from strange women like Christine (Inna Modja), who turns out to be an aide to the prime minister, putting out feelers about whether he’d like a job.
Not that he lets that stop him from flirting.
His mother (the great Marthe Keller) and grandmother drive him to distraction — endless calls to “come over” because “it’s urgent.” He’s needed to hang a painting or run an errand.
And there’s brother Hervé (Thierry Godard), who is gay and troubled and hasn’t actually come out to anybody in the family although some have “figured it out.”
These complications and several others, along with the occasional pause for sex or abrupt bit of flashing, suggest “sex farce” or at least farce. But nothing particularly funny emerges from any of this.
The entire affair is as dry as as a Tangier summer. It’s a comedy only in the ironies presented, droll only in how understated/un-stated/unexplained so much of what happens plays out.
Not that we can’t follow it.
But any picture where new characters and complications are being introduced right up to the bloody closing credits, where most every phone conversation begins “I don’t want to get into it on the phone,” where we don’t really know what this 50ish lump is and why he’s catnip to (some of) the ladies is more annoying than amusing or even particularly engaging.
MPAA Rating: unrated, mild violence, sex, nudity
Cast: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Laura Smet, Marthe Keller, Léa Drucker, Inna Modja and Thierry Godard
Credits: Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, script by Jérôme Beaujour and Louis-Do de Lencquesaing. A Film Movement Plus release.
Running time: 1:24