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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
All Is Lost, Lost in Translation
by Donald Levit

Verbal humor does not travel well. Silent comedies were laughed at the world over, still are, but spoken ones seldom cross borders with great success. Offering little of touted French drollery, Cannes Directors’ Fortnight selection Tip Top may still tickle the Gallic palate, or not, but on seeing its subtitled version Anglophones will probably echo their queenly “we are not amused.”

Co-adapting a Bill James (pen name of Britain’s James Tucker) story, director Serge Bozon is not sure whether he intends a linear or non-linear sex rib-tickler or noir thriller, a female buddy cop caper or a social comment -- a xenophobic one, at that -- on Muslim immigrants and criminal activity, or a send-up of French law enforcement bureaucracy. Or all of them.

Yet again (too often of late) Isabelle Huppert takes on a rôle that is beneath her, that of blue-suited sans stockings Esther Lafarge. A former Algerian poulet who fled Islamists at home, Farid Benamar had been Inspector Robert Mendès’ (François Damiens) informant on Arab affairs in Villenueve, Lille, but has been killed by persons unknown. Internal Affairs sends short Esther and clueless long tall Sally Marinelli (Sandrine Kiberlain) to investigate and determine who betrayed the informer. They themselves are a mystery to the local gendarmerie, while terms like “snitch” and “protocol” are bandied about every few seconds, apparently supposed to be humorous, especially in the motormouth of Esther.

Her Arab boyfriend Ahmed (Brahim Waaback) mostly back home and randy in open-air public when he does come to visit, dewy-eyed blonde Sally gets her jollies as a Peeping (or Listening) Tom. Married mother-of-one Esther’s husband is a French Arab, too, a violinist named Gérald (Samy Naceri) with whom she gets off on punching, clawing, choking and mason-hammering while he responds in the same coin.

Aiming at loopiness, both actresses overact, Huppert broadly overdoing the no-nonsense authoritarian bit and Kiberlain wilting as her insipid younger apprentice. Sloppy Mendès is breaking in hapless replacement Arab snitch Younès (Aymen Saidi) while avoiding and at the same time taking advantage of unemployed newshound Nadal (François Négret) as he and the two femmes circle around dead Farid’s non-Arab Frenchwoman widow Virginie (Karole Rocher) and her reputedly violent but mild-looking four-eyed youngster Aurélien (Youssef Tiberkanine).

There are few tracking shots but lots of abrupt shifts and visual as well as logical non sequiturs. This silly cat and mouse plays out, or not, against a dysfunctional police department’s innocent but guilty-feeling official Rozyski (Elie Lison) and its guilty but innocent-feeling widower Commissioner Bontemps (Allain Naron), somehow related to someone’s mongrel puppy, nasty hefty Arab woman Rachida Belkacem (Saïda Bekkouche), Arab immigrant-community drug dealers, a suicide, sleepless Mendès’ disheveled bed and his sorrow mistaken for homoeroticism, and Huppert’s erotically tonguing blood drops from her husband-battered nose.

Bozon has characterized story and characters as in a sense “unfinished.” Better they had never been started.

(Released by Kino Lorber Films; not rated by MPAA.)

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