“SLACK BAY”— A Dark Comedy

“Slack Bay” (“Ma Loute”)

A Dark Comedy

Amos Lassen

In the summer of 1010, several tourists disappeared while at the beaches on the French coast near Calais. Inspectors Machin (Didier Després) and his assistant Malfoy (Cyril Rigaux) are investigating these strange happenings. They think these the vanishings are centered at Slack Bay, a unique site where the Slack river and the sea come together only at high tide. Living in Slack Bay are fisherman and oyster farmers and a vey strange family, the Bréforts, who have been the ferrymen of the Slack Bay. The head of the family, is nicknamed “The Eternal” (Thierry Lavieville), because of having saved a hundred people from the sea. He and his family enjoy cannibalism.

The Van Peteghems’ mansion stands high above the bay. Every summer, the Van Peterghems who all degenerate and decadent from inbreeding, come to their villa and mix with the residents.

The film’s focus is on the clash between the impoverished locals trying to make ends meet by fishing and ferrying visitors across the shallow inlets and the upper class vacationers who wear fine clothing and possess airs of importance. The Van Peteghem family consists of André (Fabrice Luchini) and Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), husband and wife, and their two daughters (Lauréna Thellier and Manon Royère) who run all over the place and scamper about and their niece Billie (Raph) who falls for the young local Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville), son of The Eternal. Billie mother is Aude (Juliette Binoche), André’s sister. The family manor, The Typhonium, has wonderful views over the coast.

The detectives come on the scene to investigate some strange disappearances and provide a connection between the two classes.

Their inquiry seems doomed with no method but plenty of madness, while a family of bourgeois holidaymakers arrive for their annual vacation. Machin is obese and Andre is a hunchback.

The film is a visual fest with beautiful costumes and gorgeous seascapes. It opens with the Breforts scraping mussels off the rocks at low tide. The men combine their bivalve gathering with the ferrying well-off visitors across the river inlet or around the headland.

There is something strange going on amid the sand dunes. What brings the Breforts with the Van Peteghems together is the young romance between Ma Loute and Billy (who dresses as a boy but says she a girl in disguise). The film is a lot of fun as the circumstances are set up.

As I mentioned earlier the Brefort family are cannibals who kidnap, kill, and eat some of the bourgeois tourists whom they row across the bay. “Slack Bay” is a burlesque of passion and rage, a comedy of manners and of carefully constructed appearances that are warped by the constant and hidden force of cannibalism. This is a society that depends on radically maintained differences and distinctions that don’t hold up against relentless natural forces.

The isolation of the Brefort clan has come about due to official contempt and social invisibility and we see this in the father and the son. (Neither are actors; they were picked from the location and are actually father and son). Director Bruno Dumont’s attention to light, form, and motion is graceful but with an off-kilter spontaneity that matches their emotional fullness. The comedy is loud and its repetitive antics adhere to a quiet transcendent tenderness and, a geographical devotion to earth that united with irrational sublimity. Dumont blends genres as we see the coming together of slapstick and horror and realism and fantasy. (Would anyone care for anymore of this foot?).

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