Sunday, March 06, 2016

French Rendezvous ’16: 21 Nights with Pattie

Actor André Dussollier clearly bears a strong resemblance to French Nobel Laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio. Hopefully, the novelist also has a healthy sense of humor. Otherwise, he might not appreciate the way his name is dropped in Arnaud & Jean-Marie Larrieu’s 21 Nights with Pattie (trailer here), which screens during the 2016 Rendezvous with French Cinema.

Long estranged from her hippy advocate mother, “Zaza,” Caroline Montez has come to tend to the final arrangements. It turns out the locals in the southern village absolutely adored the free-spirited intellectual, but they will not let her passing stifle their summer festivities. Pattie, Zaza’s friend and pseudo-assistant, tries to take Montez under her wing, telling the younger woman some extraordinarily intimate and often comically graphic details about her sexual dealings with the men of the district. This is supposed to loosen Montez up, but initially it has quite the opposite effect. However, she is rather charmed by an elderly gentleman who prefers to be simply known as “Jean,” whom she presumes to be Le Clézio.

Unfortunately, as soon as he arrives, her mother’s body disappears under mysterious circumstances, which seems to distress Jean even more than her. The local gendarme may have an explanation. He is convinced Zaza’s body was stolen by a necrophiliac or a spurned lover, for unnatural purposes. In fact, a notorious necrophiliac matching Jean’s description had been reported in neighboring jurisdictions. That is all pretty troubling, but it is not enough to interrupt the flow of summer wine.

Only the French could get away with a light rom com in which the practice of necrophilia plays such a pivotal role. Frankly, nobody seems to be all that shocked by the notion, except Montez. Leaving that aside, 21 Nights is a rather droll rom-com, with a devilish desire to shock, but not disgust.

Karin Viard is wonderfully earthy and animated as the oblivious Pattie, while Isabelle Carré plays off her well enough as the repressed Montez. The crafty old veteran Dussollier is indeed a good sport as the gentleman who is either Le Clézio or an infamous pervert (presumably Montez and the gendarme cannot both be right). Denis Lavant periodically pops up to deliver a few minutes of lunacy as André, the village’s incomprehensible horndog. In contrast, Laurent Poitrenaux adds some mature charm as the more-complex-than-he-initially-appears gendarme. Unfortunately, Sergi López is largely wasted as Montez’s sexually frustrated Catalan husband.

You wouldn’t think it would fit the breezy southern provincial ambience, but Nicolas Repac’s electronic blues soundtrack really gives the film a distinctive vibe. The Larrieu brothers add a touch of supernatural mysticism, but the pleasures of Pattie are mostly quite terrestrial in nature. It is all rather amusing and really only slightly naughty, in a way Francophiles will appreciate. Recommended as an indulgent confection, 21 Nights with Pattie screens at the Walter Reade this Friday (3/11) and Saturday (3/12), as part of Rendezvous with French Cinema.