When newlyweds Marc (Clovis Cornillac) and Emma (Julie Depardieu) move into their newly acquired mansion their future begins to look rosy; the place is quiet and secluded from the city bustle and seems almost too perfect to want to start a family in and enjoy the high life. And it certainly is all too good to be true. Unbeknownst to Marc and Emma the house was once host to a gay disco, which in 1979 came to a tragic cease - the result of dodgy wiring - killing the five partygoers in an instant.
Soon the guests make their presence known in the form of several strange happenings: odd phallic paintings appear on the wall; wardrobes magically build themselves and the ironing takes care of itself. Furthermore, every night at around 2am the sounds of Boney M trickle through the basement walls, but only Marc can hear it. It’s not long before he’s is completely distracted by seventies disco tunes, before uncovering several guests living in the mansion’s belly. When he tries to tell Julie about them she thinks of him crazy, as only he can see them also. Julie tells him to see a shrink, but the frustration that’s already set in sees the couple slowly becoming distanced from one another. Hope seems all but lost for Marc as he finds his familiar way of life threatened, but just maybe help is on the horizon in the form of a McDonald’s-addicted spirit medium.
Poltergay - undoubtedly one of the most curiously titled films of recent years and one which immediately betrays the film’s attempts at setting up an eerie atmosphere for the good part of half an hour - is Eric Lavaine’s debut motion picture in which he also penned the screenplay from an original story by Héctor Cabello Reyes. That original story, however, isn’t particularly original under the surface as once Poltergay sets up its initial premise it runs a very predictable path in checking off a series of clichéd events, with no thanks to Lavaine‘s rather pedestrian style of directing. Still, that’s besides the point when essentially Poltergay is all about re-enforcing the idea of love with a rather fun central gimmick involving gay ghosties. And sure enough even they are based on the most obvious of stereotypes. Make no mistake, Lavaine doesn’t shy away from throwing in well worn Village People references and all kinds of over-the-top campy encounters, but he manages to hit a pleasant tone which sees these moments cheerfully run in tandem with the more subtler played human nature/acceptance angle, in turn having it often seem to exploit the sign of the times rather than anything else.
Where Poltergay surprises is not so much the characters of Marc and Emma, but in the five trapped spirits who are blissfully unaware of their thirty year-old predicament. Each of them have their own inner struggles, and while they’re not massively fleshed out beings, given the strict run time, they’re large enough to have us care about them. From Gilles (Jean-Michel Lahmi) who continually insists he’s not gay and only likes fireman because their job is important, to Ivan’s (Georges Gay) sexually confused state of mind and Shaggy’s (Lionel Abelanski) melancholy sadness at having drifted apart from the one and only man he ever loved, Poltergay serves up a nice balance of poignancy, light-hearted comedy and retro stylings.
Indeed it is helped along by some terrific performances within the quintet of haunting homosexuals, each of whom help to lift the film far beyond its routine aesthetics and occasional, but effective CG offerings. Clovis Cornillac meanwhile has the burden of carrying most of the film on his shoulders, and he makes for a strong lead with his great sense of comic timing and the good will to poke fun at, and demoralise his own self. The lovely Julie Depardieu is, well, lovely, but it’s safe to say she isn’t given a whole lot to do other than play the straight man as it were, when not spending considerable amounts of time off screen, though she should be noted for her captivating rendition of “Born to be Alive”, which becomes the film’s central theme, providing the pivotal moment when Marc decides to finally do something about his situation.
For the most part Peccadillo Pictures presentation is immaculate. The film, which was shot on HD, is presented anamorphically at 2.35:1 and looks every bit as good as it should, with strong detail and an accurate colour balance all round, including the deliberately contrast-y look. Whilst Edge Enhancement is not visible other artefacts tend to rear their head on occasion. Low-lit scenes suffer the most, with the final chapter being a strong case in point as digital noise blurs detail, and that isn’t helped with a multitude of red and orange hues which clearly shows the disc struggling hard to keep up. Day scenes on the other hand look great and present no immediate problems. It’s a shame, then, because had this received just a little more attention we’d be looking at a reference disc for sure.
Sound options consist of French DD2.0 and 5.1. The 5.1 Surround track is effective at certain intervals, as the film rarely relies on big set pieces. This is a talky little flick which on occasion offers some spooky ambience across rear surrounds, and as such the majority of dialogue takes place cleanly across the front channels. It’s during the energetic disco moments that the film comes alive, with Boney M’s repetitively played (for good reason) “Rasputin” and the fun score of Moto & The Supermen Lovers keeping it above water thanks to some nice steering in an attempt to recreate the perfect disco-style setting.
Optional English subtitles are included and they offer a fine translation with good grammar, in addition to allowing the jokes to play through in a perfectly understandable manner. Minor changes incur with relation to character names: Marc for instance is Mark, while you have Gilles as Giles.
Not a great deal to shout home about, here we have a Making Of running for just under thirty minutes as the main bonus feature. It’s fairly typical of most behind the scenes features, taking us through key sections such as music recording and rehearsals, but for the most part it picks up on several scenes being shot on location. During this time we see cast and crew having fun, but we also see how they work with the director in submitting their own ideas, which on occasion tends to create some minor arguments.
That just leaves us then with the original trailer and previews for other Peccadillo releases on DVD and in cinemas.
In all Poltergay offers a fun premise and while its jokes may seem obvious and its overall style rather simple, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Moreover it does handle its subject matter with care, given that the premise is ripe for the picking; it never strays into overt mocking and remains fully inoffensive throughout. A top cast of wonderful faces help immeasurably in enlivening this neat and charming enough little tale of ghoulish gayhem (*mayhem).
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