Louise-Michel begins with a sham of a cremation, culminating with the man in charge asking the grieving congregation if any of them have a light. This foreshadows the numerous botched attempts later in the film to take a man’s life. French filmmakers Gustave de Kervern and Benoit Delepine, who also co-wrote and directed Aaltra (2004) and Avida (2006) bring us an absurdist tale under a backdrop of harsh economic times.
In real life, Louise Michel was a French anarchist and militant activist who supported social revolution, spent time in prison and was deported. In the film, it is a man and a woman; Louise (Yolande Moreau) and Michel (Bouli Lanners), who are brought together by a twist of fate. Louise, a monosyllabic, illiterate woman (who used to be a man) has a job in a factory but one day, she turns up to work with her fellow employees only to find the factory completely empty. Everything has been cleared out without warning and there is no sign of their boss. Angry and frustrated, the factory workers decide to put the compensation money they get to good use and hire a hitman to murder the man responsible for them being made redundant.
Whilst trying to find the right man for the job, Louise bumps into Michel, who is so useless she has to return his gun to him. This ex-security guard-turned-contract killer is incompetent but Louise decides he’ll do. After many mishaps and a trip to Brussels and then Jersey, the unlikely pair finally find the man they’re looking for.
It’s a subversive crime caper that isn’t for the sensitive, as sometimes it can be uncomfortable to watch. At one point the inept Michel asks his dying cousin to kill the factory boss, telling her she’s going to ‘croak’ soon anyway and saying it would make a fine exit, before smuggling her out of the hospital.
The film doesn’t make you feel involved or sympathetic towards the two main characters, just like you’re observing their antics at a safe distance. The people you feel sorry for are the ones around them who they drag into trouble.
There are however some funny moments in the film. Michel’s target practice in a field leads him to accidentally shoot a cow, the scene where he is trying to silence the small dog from barking, and the response he gives to the workers when they complain about the driving expenses: “Buy a Prius and whack the boss yourself! I’ve had enough. I’m not Robocop!”
There is also some good camerawork from the directing pair. The workers hold meetings about the hit in a small wooden hut. There is a nice repeated framing technique used in two different scenes, as we view the group through the window of the hut, with the outside and the surrounding field also in the shot.
The film includes cameo appearances from famous French stars. Mathieu Kassovitz, director of La Haine (1995) and Gothika (2003) and actor in Amelia (2001) and Munich (2005) plays a Bed & Breakfast owner obsessed with organic produce and green energy. He offers his guests equitable commerce coffee, organic aspartame, organic mini-fruits, and solar power but with a lack of sun. Benoit Poelvoorde, best known for Man Bites Dog (1992) and Coco Before Chanel (2009) appears as a conspiracy theorist fond of umbrellas that provide camouflage for him from anyone who might be spying.
Louise-Michel is a dark and strange French comedy that comments on the state of society and frustration at the economic situation. It’s not a film for everyone, but those who like the sound of a transgender crime movie/ road trip with a twisted sense of humour that could easily offend, should spend an hour and a half in the company of this very odd couple.
Louise-Michel is released on DVD 25th April 2011.
Directors: Gustave de Kervern, Benoît Delépine
Stars: Yolande Moreau, Bouli Lanners, Benoît Poelvoorde