Friday, December 30, 2011

Santa Stinks en Français

What’s a merry Christmas without a little collateral damage? Fortunately, the French are there to remind us how aggressively crummy the holidays are. If you spent December 25th alone, Jean-Marie Poiré’s Le père Noël est une ordure will make you grateful. Demurely translated as Santa Stinks (trailer here), this French yuletide favorite is now playing a special holiday engagement at MoMA.

Pierre and Thérèse are WASPY volunteers at a suicide hotline working Christmas Eve for their well-to-do busy-body supervisor, Madame Musquin, who will spend most of the night stuck in the elevator. She will be the lucky one. A flamboyant transvestite caller, their mega-pregnant client Josette, and her nebbish but psychotic husband Félix will reduce their evening to anarchy, periodically interrupted by visits from their immigrant neighbor Preskovic, bearing ever more unlikely dishes of his scatological native cuisine.

If the basic premise of Ordure sounds familiar that is because Nora Ehpron neutered it with her American remake Mixed Nuts. In truth, a film like this could never be made here today. The professionally aggrieved, most definitely including GLAAD and CAIR, would have a seizure. Truly, there is something to offend everyone: gay jokes, foreigner jokes, sex jokes, animal husbandry, and language that would make rappers blush, even in subtitles. Basically, it is everything you could every ask Santa for wrapped up under the tree and since it is screening at MoMA, you can even get your film snob on while you watch.

Based on a stage play mounted by the Le Splendid company Ordure is wickedly funny, but not exactly an acting workshop. Frankly, Splendid trouper Thierry Lhermitte mugs something awful as Pierre, but you can’t say he isn’t working for his laughs. Yet, he is downright subtle compared to Christian Clavier’s cross-dressing Katia. Perhaps Anémone gives the driest, most understated turn as Thérèse, but it is only by comparison to her colleagues’ unrestrained lunacy.

Ordure is so shamelessly unrepentant, it comes as a breath of fresh air. Surly and dirty-minded, it has the attitude of a mid 1970’s Mel Brooks movie with an inflamed skin rash. As a longstanding Christmas tradition, it gives one a new appreciation for the French. It also makes you want to keep them at a distance. Highly recommended, but absolutely not for children or the easily offended, it screens through Monday (1/2) at the Museum of Modern Art. Happy Holidays.