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The Red Dwarf
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This Belgian film, written and directed by first-time filmmaker Yvan LeMoine and shot in black and white, begins by introducing us to Lucien L'Hotte, a dwarf, a man in perhaps his thirties, who works at a law office that seems not to have changed since the late 1800s. His job is to compose anonymous, scurrilous letters designed to break up marriages, which will lead to business for the law firm. These letters will then be used by the firm's lawyers in trial.
An odd setup for a contemporary film, but it serves to begin our voyage into a world part Cocteau, part titillating child porn, part Fellini, part classic noir. One day Lucien (Jean-Yves Thual) is asked to call on a client, the baroness Paola Bendoni (the ancient and voluminous Anita Ekberg), who wants to ditch her gigolo husband Bob. One thing leads to another, and soon the teeny and the massive are bouncing around in bed.
It cannot last, and in fact the baroness is quickly dispatched, while Lucien frames her husband for the murder. All the while, Lucien has become entranced by a small circus that has set up shop nearby, and made friends with lovely child-acrobat Isis (Dyna Gauzy), who sees in him a lifetime soulmate, since he will always remain her size.
And so Lucien joins the circus as a clown, discovering a true talent in himself for knockabout comedy. He and the circus both prosper, until one day Bob the husband (Arno Chevrier) shows up, still on the run from the police and still not knowing who framed him.
The film's literary roots --a short story by Michel Tournier -- poke out everywhere, lending an odd fascination to what's on screen (what filmmaker would ever conceive such a bizarre story?), but also clogging it with a miasma of image piled on symbol piled on metaphor piled on allegory, all making a thick soup that constantly fogs all meaning. Le Moine keeps hinting that there's irony lying in wait for us -- the dwarf and the giantess copulating, the contempt in which Lucien is held by 'normal' people, the ease with which he fits into the circus, and so on -- and he keeps tiptoeing around the sexual tension he insists on showing between Isis and Lucien. The one fascinating relationship is that at the circus between Lucien and Bob, which turns into a kind of dominant-submissive, yet mutually satisfactory life for the two of them.
There's much to admire technically in Le Moine's bold attack here, but he's undercut himself by loading the film with more meanings than it can handle. The film previewed this spring at the Seattle International Film Festival, and opens in major cities June 18th. <! new pasted review ends on line above>