Do Not Disturb (Une heure de tranquillité)
France (2014) Dir. Patrice Leconte
The farce was once a staple of British comedy in films and TV although it remains a consistent property of its original home – the stage. But we are not alone in enjoying this genre as the French also enjoy a manic comedy of errors, as this film from Patrice Leconte, adapted from the play by Florian Zeller demonstrates.
A fairly simple set-up as ever that spirals out of control, jazz loving dentist Michel Leproux (Christian Clavier) finds a rare album he has long been after and wants to listen to it ahead of visit from a friend. But, just as the needle hit the record he gets a phone call from his lover Elsa (Valérie Bonneton) who wants to meet up and tell Michel’s wife Nathalie (Carole Bouquet) about their affair.
Having put Elsa off, Michel finds Portuguese plumber Leo (Arnaud Henriet), pretending to be Polish to get work, making an almighty racket. Spanish housekeeper Maria (Rossy de Palma) is also being noisy whilst chatterbox neighbour Pavel (Stéphane De Groodt) is organising the annual apartment summer party. Finally, Nathalie has a bombshell of her own to drop on Michel.
It certainly has all the makings of a Brian Rix classic (sans vicars and trousers being dropped) but being French, the lack of the physical comedy in favour of prolix verbal confrontations is more the form here. This makes the humour less broad since the reactions of the cast to some situations are typical of our Gallic neighbours, and might feel arcane to non-French audiences.
Patrice Leconte is better known outside of France for artier films such as Girl On The Bridge which reveals itself in the presentation, and while he is no stranger to comedy, he seems to have forgotten the very essence of what a makes a farcical comedy work here. Not that this film is a complete failure or without a few laughs but it is a case of the parts being greater than the sum.
Some of this has to fall on Florian Zeller, who also adapted the screenplay. Hailed as one of France’s prominent contemporary playwrights as well as an internationally renowned author, the weakness of the narrative is rather disappointing. Perhaps it is from being used to British farces which are a steadily built litany of chaos leading to a crashing crescendo while this is decidedly restrained with a bathetically calm ending.
But Michel does have a lot to tolerate and drive him to conniption, even if some of it is his own doing. With Elsa waiting patiently at a café across the road from his sumptuous apartment and Michel refusing her calls, that is one stick of dynamite with a rapidly burning fuse. Knowing her has to keep Nathalie from knowing the truth, Michel runs her a bath to relax, oblivious to the fact Leo has cracked the water pipe.
Their idle son Sébastien (Sébastien Castro) shows up with a bag of washing, living just across the way with a family of Philippine refugees, providing a further interruption before Pavel is knocking at the door seeking help with the party. Just as Michel gets rid off Pavel, Elsa shows up, her conscience getting the better of her but an argument with another neighbour sees Michel locked out of his apartment.
While he is out getting a spare key from Sébastien, involving a creepy scene where he tries to hit on the teenage daughter of the Philippine family, Elsa and Nathalie sit down for a chat. Upon his return Michel thinks Elsa has spilled the beans but hasn’t but his assumption pretty much gives the game away anyhow.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the flood from the cracked water pipe leaks through to Pavel’s apartment directly below Michel’s, forcing an impromptu change of venue for the party – not that Michel has any say in the matter. Finally, Nathalie drops her bombshell on Michel involving his friend Pierre (Christian Charmetant) just as the party kicks off but before any discussion can be had.
If you are wondering can it get any worse, then yes it can, but as mentioned above the resolve is woefully unsatisfying. Throughout the film, Michel’s character drifts from a victim of circumstance to the architect of his own downfall but unlike, say Basil Fawlty, where it is actually easy to sympathise with Basil despite his flaws, Michel often invites the fate that awaits him.
This is actually true of most of the characters that impinge on Michel’s music listening time. Nathalie may be the aggrieved wife but isn’t entirely innocent either, while Pavel deserves a slap and everyone knows it (except him). Leo is lucky he doesn’t get his arse handed to him for all his incompetence, and as the mistress and victim of Michels’ empty promises, Elsa has the rare distinction of being partially redeemable while culpable of her own improprieties.
Yet amidst the misunderstandings, infidelity, ineptitude and general irritation driving the situations, the full potential of the humour is not explored. The subtle irony of the album title Me, Myself And I will probably go over a few heads from being lost in a melange of contrived distractions. It not so much that the script isn’t well written or carefully constructed, it just doesn’t loosen the chains to indulge the farcical aspect of its being.
The presentation is slick and the images vibrant, whilst at a perfunctory 75 minutes the film moves at a very brisk pace. The cast are all on point in their portrayals with veteran Christian Clavier once again exploiting his comic prowess to its fullest as Michel, a man we can believe will burst at any minute.
During the first half Do Not Disturb shows great potential of becoming a great modern farce in the vein of great tradition of the genre but quickly has other ideas, leaving us with a mildly entertaining romp that unfortunately doesn’t live up to that initial promise.