If it’s not exactly new, the team of Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon and Bruno Romy’s second feature film brings something refreshingly different to the screen quite unlike anything else being made at the minute, and if doesn’t expand the language of the filmmaking medium to any great extent either, it nevertheless returns to a more innocent period when the rules hadn’t yet been so narrowly defined.
Rumba, you see, plays with little dialogue, a great deal of visual humour, burlesque and slapstick routines in a way that is reminiscent of the early Hal Roach stable of Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy (or Jacques Tati and early Jeunet and Caro, if your memory doesn’t go back that far). And not just in the comedy stakes. The film also has a universal quality that makes it able to touch on broad life themes that will be recognisable and carry meaning for young and old alike to relate to in different ways – friendship, companionship, accomplishment, loss and endurance – the notion of dealing with the inevitable setbacks of life, getting back up and carrying on.
It’s hard to imagine an odd couple like Dom (Dominique Abel) and Fiona (Fiona Gordon) being much of an inspiration to their pupils, but as the PE and English teachers at a little French country school, they share similar hopes and dreams and an equal delight in seeing the end of the school day. Outside school hours, they indulge their passion for the rumba, displaying an imaginative flair for the colourful dance, succeeding even in winning the local Latin American dance championships. The simple joys of their life however receive a setback when, returning from the dance competition, their car meets with an accident caused by a man (Philippe Martz) trying and failing abysmally to commit suicide. And that’s only the beginning of their troubles...
...troubles that aren’t taken lightly, but somewhat bizarrely in places – Dom being accosted at one point by a mugger (Bruno Romy) who is only interested in his pain au chocolat, but prepared to go pretty close to committing murder to get it. The humour and the serious treatment of the themes run pretty close together then, the purpose being made evident even as you snigger at the very idea. To make it work requires not just a good mastery of comic timing and visual language – which are all evident here as well – but also with a sense of realism in the characterisation and investment in the relationships, and Abel and Gordon work hard to ensure that this is the case with Dom and Fiona. It’s these qualities that makes Rumba more than the colourful cartoon that it often resembles, and a great deal of fun, entertainment and delight not just for kids, but for adults who want a reminder of just how much more cinema is capable of outside of narrative realism.
Rumba opens at the Odeon Panton Street, the ICA and key cities from 31 July.