Le Dîner de Cons Review

François Pignon (Jacques Villeret) just can't believe his luck. His trainspotting-like hobby of assembling matchstick versions of famous monuments is finally going to make him into a minor celebrity since Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte), the famous Parisian editor, has personally called up and invited him to special dinner party. What Pignon doesn't suspect is that he's really been selected for his boring, geeky persona. Brochant sees in him a sure winner at the game his friends and him have devised but, as luck has it, Brochant pulls a back muscle while golfing. Still, hoping for a speedy recovery and sensing Pignon is born winner for the game, he doesn't cancel his appointment with Pignon who is scheduled to drop by before dinner. However, Brochant's wife (Alexandra Vendernoot) chooses this very moment to have a domestic with Brochant and leaves the house, Things start to get even worse for Brochant when Pignon makes his entrance.

The film turned out to be a international hit which was a bit of surprise given that French comedy has never really exported too well. None of Gérard Oury's films have acquired any real status in the UK despite being France's most popular comedies. There is obviously something that transcends culture in Le Dîner de Cons; although I really can't put my finger on it, I imagine the themes of human cruelty, snootiness and accidental heroes are easy to tap into regardless of our situation. Like a lot of French comedies, Le Dîner is a simple comedy of errors (or Quiproquo as the French call it) but one written by the senior writer/director Francis Veber. From the word go, you can see how things are going to go stedily downhill for one of characters and that the underdog will come out on top but what really makes or breaks it, are the performances of the two leads. In this case, we have a couple of stalwarts of comedy in the shape of Lhermitte and the late Villeret. It is mostly Villeret's performance as the hapless Pignon that carries the film from beginning to end - it's hard not to warm to him as you grow to dislike the haughty Brochant. The film is, like most of Veber's films, adapted from a play - in this case, Villeret is reprising a role he played for years on stage. Like a lot of French plays adapted to the big screen, there is the problem that they often stick to the classical rules of French theater (En un jour, en un lieu, une seule action accomplie: i.e. one day, one place and one intrigue) making them very stati, lookin more like filmed plays rather than a film per se. Ozon managed to use this to his advantage in Huit Femmes and, by and large, Veber gets away with it pretty well by bending the rules. This allows the film to be far less claustrophobic (which was what Ozon was looking for) and breathes more depth into the characters. Veber's style of comedy is maybe a little heavy-handed and if you hated La Cage Aux Folles and Le Placard, then this will probably leave you cold but I feel Le Dîner de Cons surpasses both of those films with Villeret's sharper performance, a toning down of the strawman variety of satire and an excellent supporting cast.

Though I'm still quite surprised by its status in non-French speaking countries, it is without doubt a sharp and concise piece that does not overstay its welcome and is hugely enjoyable even after repeat viewings - this being the sixth time I've seen the film, I still find myself laughing at some of the lines though I do think that the great use of tone by some of the actors may be lost on a non-French speaking audience.

The DVD:

The image:
The image itself is quite a nice transfer which lets the colours vibrate and tends to be quite stable though I noticed quite a few blocky moments with intricate designs. Pathé have also made the strange move have transferred the subtitles on top of the film itself, made them pretty large and placed them on a grey background. Given the film ratio (2.35:1), this means that a large proportion of the image is taken up with the subs which, due to the dialogue-centred nature of the film is pretty much permanent. This is a worrying trend from Pathé who after their poor release of Les Destinées Sentimentales

The subtitles:
There are a few bizarre translations. Auxerre gets translated as Paris which is a bit like translating Birmingham as London but globally, it's good.

The sound:
A basic stereo mix which is fine as it is very dialogue orientated though it adds to the theatrical feel. The French release had a 5.1 mix though which could have easily been transferred.

This is as barebones as DVDs get - just a brief menu offering chapter selection or the full film.

A very bare-bones effort from Pathé who seem to be going through their French movie backcatalogue without really putting together decent releases. The US release has a similar issue with the subtitles so the best release so far seems to be the French one which is low on extras but has a 5.1 mix as well as removable English subs.

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