The French comedy Adieu Les Cons (Bye Bye Morons in English) is dedicated to Monty Python’s Terry Jones, who died while it was being made, and also features a blink-and-miss-it cameo by Terry Gilliam, another Python. Given that the film’s director, co-writer and star, Albert Dupontel, is a big fan of the British comedy troupe, you might expect this film, which did incredibly well at the César Awards (the French Oscars) to be full of Pythonesque silliness, absurdity and gentle mocking of the staid middle class. Yes… but mostly no.
It stars the ever-brilliant Virginie Efira, a still centre of calm as the mayhem escalates, as Suze, a hairdresser who’s just been told that she has only a short time left to live – years of hairspray have destroyed her lungs, having earlier in her life also ruined her fertility (hey, comedy!).
In a Benny Hill-style sped-up montage we learn that Suze had a fling when she was 15, got pregnant and gave birth to a healthy baby boy and then gave it up for adoption. Backstory and current situation established, the rest of the film follows Suze as she tries to track down the baby, who’d now be 28 years old, on the way picking up a couple of useless sidekicks – Dupontel as Jean-Baptiste Cuchas, an IT wonk at the public records office who flames out spectacularly while she’s there searching for information and tries to shoot himself. And Nicolas Marié as a blind man who works in the archive section, where details about the adoption of Suze’s newborn child might or might not be stored.
For sure, Dupontel has that Pythonesque thing going on, the put-upon pen-pusher suddenly breaking free of his shackles like something out of The Lumberjack Song, if you squint hard and are feeling gracious, but Marié as a blind man called Blin is more a homage to Peter Sellers, with Blin a cross between Strangelove and Clouseau. To be fair, the debt owed by the Pythons to the Goons (one of whom was Sellers) is huge.
But the presiding comic genius in this film is actually Jacques Tati. There is blundering insouciance and mistrust of the modern world all over the place. And as the police trail Suze, Blin and Cuchas as they try to find Suze’s now-grown child, there is plenty of ham-fisted absurdity and comedy of a cartoonish sort as a ker-ay-zee wild-goose-chase logic is worked through in what could be one wordless Tati setup after another.
The comedy has its laugh-out-loud moments, though the interesting thing about this film is how dark it’s prepared to be, at times, and how wistful it eventually becomes, especially once Suze’s son is located and it turns out that he has problems of his own. In fact things take a gently redemptive turn, and as writers Dupontel, Marcia Romano and Xavier Nemo break free of the formulaic structure the story takes in welcome digressions, including a strangely touching sequence featuring the obstetrician who birthed Suze’s child, now a shell of a man with dementia.
Efira is a versatile talent and seems to slot in neatly wherever she’s required, as a devout Catholic in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, as a disaster in instalments in Sibyl, and here, turning up the human warmth so you can almost feel it coming off the screen.
Dupontel, wearing his director’s hat, helps, adding in so much warm filtration to the film’s looks that it’s almost orange at times. A visual sign of the film’s good heart.
Hang on for the end, it’s ridiculous and glib but will probably jerk a tear from the eye, followed by another ending that’s altogether darker but just as grandiosly nonsensical. Neither are particularly Pythonesque, and nor do they need to be.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021