Slack Bay (Ma Loute) is very difficult to categorise or to explain. Is it a period farce? Or an Agatha Christie style murder mystery? Maybe an element of magic realism is thrown in for good measure? It is certainly absurdist in nature, which can be a difficult pill to swallow for the unsuspecting audience member.
Slack Bay is set at the French seaside in 1910, where the wealthy Van Peteghem family are holidaying at their luxurious summer home. The Bruforts, a local family, make a living collecting oysters and ferrying tourists across the deeper waters of the bay. Two police officers are investigating a series of strange disappearances – several people have gone missing from the beach in curious circumstances.
It sounds quite straightforward. But it’s not. The Van Peteghem holiday home is a strange concrete structure, a tribute to Egyptian style, odd in the environs. The family themselves are snobbish and ridiculous, oblivious to their own ludicrousness. The inept detective inspector is an obese idiot, he can barely walk or stand and squeaks like a balloon with every movement, his equally inept subordinate constantly compensating for his commander’s shortcomings.
Performances in Slack Bay are excellent, especially impressive given the peculiarity of the characters and screenplay. The Van Peteghem family consists of André (Fabrice Luchini), his sister Aude (Juliette Binoche) and wife Isabelle (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). There are three daughters, including the gender fluid Billie (Ralph), who catches the eye of oldest Brufort son Ma Loute (Brandon Lavieville). Didier Desprès plays both the Detective Inspector Machin and the Van Petegham’s uncle Alfred, a man who may be both intellectually and socially deficient.
Directed by Bruno Dumont, attention to detail is excellent; gorgeous costuming and setting, very smart and luxurious. Juliette Binoche has a particularly spectacular wardrobe and styling, although it doesn’t take much for her to look sumptuous. Dumont uses everything at his disposal really well and Slack Bay is visually quite gorgeous. Despite this, the film has very dark moments, and although handled with a comedic touch, the darkness is a little hard to shake.
Perhaps it was over-exposure to the various promotional materials for Murder On The Orient Express, but this reviewer had very different ideas about what to expect from Slack Bay. Certainly the opening sequences of the film did not suggest quite the direction Slack Bay would take. While the film was very beautiful, it was not really enjoyable. It goes without saying that enjoyment simply comes down to taste, but this film – as with any in this absurdist style – is definitely an acquired taste.
Slack Bay is in cinemas from 14th December through Sharmill Films.