(Screened at the 2003 City of Lights/City of Angels Film Festival, under the title ANYTHING YOU SAY.) It looks like we're not the only ones gagging on an excess of reality TV. Actor-director Guillaume Canet--yeah, he's French--has just weighed in with an amusing satire on the genre that's somehow more dead-on accurate than our native efforts. Inspired in part by Canet's chance viewing of the Jerry Springer show while he was staying in New York, it deftly skewers not only the inherent silliness of these programs, but also the callous mentality that permits people to revel in it all.Canet, making his feature-film directorial debut, is probably best known to our audiences for his role in THE BEACH. Here, he plays a lowly yet ambitious production assistant, Bastien, on the hit show It's Tissue Time, a game show whose object is to make people cry on camera. He's full of rather unhealthy fascination for producer Broustal (François Berléand), his self-confessed idol. Bastien gets his big chance to impress the boss when Broustal invites him to stay the weekend at his rural estate--but there, he quickly finds himself in the middle of an increasingly sinister cat-and-mouse game.
The film scores some nice hits on reality TV, admittedly not a difficult target, but what keeps the film afloat is its attention to character. In the film's best performance, Berléand lights up the screen as Broustal, an overgrown child whose surface wit masks a cruel personality. There's always an undercurrent of malice in his playfulness; you sense he enjoys entirely too much all this screwing with people's heads. He's the sort of man who demands that his underlings kiss him on the mouth, and then accuses them of being fags when they reluctantly comply.
Canet demonstrates a lively visual style--his film lacks the depressingly flat look I've come to associate with French movies. You might sense the general direction where the film is heading, but Canet continually surprises with the details, and he keeps the pace swift. He gets nearly everything right, from the crackling comedy to the well-executed chase scene toward the end. I'm bothered by a few relatively small matters--like the heavy-handed symbolism of the vultures seen on the estate, or the rather strange final scene; I also would have liked to see a tidier conclusion to a subplot involving Bastien's girlfriend, who disappears from the scene well before the end. But these are quibbles, and can be passed over with little hesitation.(The City of Lights/City of Angels Film Festival is a annual one-week event in Los Angeles dedicated to contemporary French films. For more information see: www.cityoflightsfestival.org)