Overview: Two inspectors investigate a series of disappearances in a coastal village. Memento Films distribution; 2016; 122 Minutes.
A Comedic Turn: Following a summer’s worth of events on the beaches of the French coast, Bruno Dumont’s Ma Loute pits the wealthy, incestuous, vacationing Peteghems against the Bréforts, a cannibalistic family of anglers and mussel collectors composed of four sons, all lifelong residents of the island. Stuck in the middle, attempting to solve a series of disappearances, is the ditzy crime fighting duo of Investigator Machin and Detective Malfoy, a veritable Sherlock and Watson dipped in buffoonery.
This is such a bold turn from an ostensibly serious, visceral filmmaker, and he brings a familiar collaborator with him. Dumont’s last partnership with Juliette Binoche, Camille Claudel 1915, saw the actress portraying the tragic titular character struggling to find freedom in a mental institution. That film is compassionate and intimate in its portrayal of the artist. Ma Loute has Binoche occupy a character who is unapologetically and verifiably insane, free and unrelenting. The film is self-aware to the degree that its characters are not. Time spent with the Peteghems is always hilariously elegant. But Binoche in particular amps up the theatrics – screaming, fainting, singing opera to birds on balconies. In a way, this is Binoche like we have never seen her before, and it is always immensely fun to watch an actress of her stature commit to such a wild role even if the joke becomes a bit repetitive.
A Romantic Turn: A love story arises between that of the titular Ma Loute, eldest son of “The Eternal”, the old Bréfory with whom he carries people across, and androgynous Billie, who is referred to with interchangeable gender pronouns. This forbidden love between rich and poor plays out like Romeo and Juliet, initially unfolding as sweet and innocent before eventually emphasizing the impossibility of amorously conjoining the upper and lower class (while the presence of a middle class which is ridiculed throughout).
An Absurdist Turn: Dumont channels Tati in his use of aural slapstick, with humor leaning upon exaggerated noises, inefficient though not always unpredictable motions, and a general sense of overlying stupidity that infects all of the occupants of the bay. It treats the big monumental family secrets – the aforementioned cannibalism and incest (and all the birth defects that come with it) – with a nonchalance, instead elevating every other non-taboo scene to maximize absurdity. There are a lot of laughs to be had from this, but way more small chuckles. Contrasting the lowbrow humor is a beautiful blue/beige color scheme. The movie enchants with a visual tone, emanating a peaceful aura. Texture, especially that of water, is given careful attention so that every image feels like a nostalgic photograph, carefree and whimsical, channeling the ease of the beach.
Overall: Ma Loute is a wild, enjoyable ride, even if it suffers slightly from its monotone humor. And though it does feel dry in its later stages, it is, on the whole, considerably and lastingly funny.