Slack Bay or Ma Loute

Rated: Not Rated

        For many reasons, foreign films are often an acquired taste. Some people claim that it’s because they don’t understand what’s going on in a given film, some allege that it’s simple that they don’t understand whatever language is spoken, and some say that they avoid foreign films because they don’t get the humor. I don’t buy into any of that. For the most part comedy is comedy, and drama is drama, no matter the language spoken or culture portrayed. In my experience it’s not that a film is foreign that makes it “weird” or “difficult to understand”, it’s the way in which it was written and directed.  The crucial thing is to go into these films with an open mind.
        The new film from writer director Bruno Dumont
Slack Bay, (or Ma Loute) is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. The film takes place in 1910 in Northern France, and follows the poor Brufort family, who are fisherman and ferry people across the river to make a living; the inbred and rich Van Peteghem family as they fritter away the days sunbathing and pestering the locals, while vacationing in their lavish summer mansion; and hapless inspectors Machin and Malfoy as they attempt to investigate a series of tourist disappearances.
Valeria Bruni Tedeschi takes flight in Slack Bay (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

Valeria Bruni Tedeschi takes flight in Slack Bay (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

        This is a film thoroughly peppered with whimsy and slapstick, and although it was obvious what to pay attention to most of the time, there were minor details lurking just outside the obvious that added to the atmosphere of it all. These little touches included things like the noise Malfoy’s shoes made as he walked, the specific things Aude throws (and leaves alone) at the altar on the beach, and that at times throughout the film Christian yells (in English) “We know what to do, but we do not do!”.
        The performance I most enjoyed while watching this film is that of actress Raph, who played Billie. Billie is a conflicted character who switches back and forth between presenting him (or her) self as a girl, and as a boy. After a while of trying to figure out for myself which Billie is, it became clear that even the character isn’t quite sure. The actress Raph did a phenomenal job playing this gender confused youth, and she proves to the audience that love doesn’t necessarily stick to the bounds of gender. This would be a monumental task for many more experienced actors, but she nailed it in only her second ever role on screen. If her performance in
Slack Bay is any indication, I see her going far and rising high in the film industry!
        Although I’ve found in general that comedy needs no translation across borders and cultures, sometimes parts of the humor are lost, as each culture has its own distinct sense of what humor is and what makes up comedy.
Slack Bay is again the perfect example. I don’t feel that I “got” a lot of the humor portrayed, but I’m sure if I were a little more used to French humor and comedies that I wouldn’t have had a problem.
Brandon Lavieville and Raph share an embrace in Slack Bay (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

Brandon Lavieville and Raph share an embrace in Slack Bay (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

        As writer/director Bruno Dumont explains, “It’s a question of embracing all human complexity, the duplicity of people who are capable of doing the best and the worst, and thus make a film that is at once funny, touching, scary, poignant, and suspenseful… Cinema can go beyond the reasonable; it makes the forbidden possible… Both families are monstrous, each in their own way…
Slack Bay goes beyond social and moral niceties, and transgresses taboos to better serve the comedy and give it a real basis. I wanted to find laughs in serious situations, the shadowy zones that I have previously explored in the dramatic idiom in my previous films. I just had to find the right distance to do it; jubilation is cleansing,” he said.
        As is clear given that statement,
Slack Bay is a complicated and deep look at some of the social norms and taboos of 1910s France, and pushes the boundaries as to what is funny.  It may take more than one viewing to unlock all of the complexities and nuances here, but I think you’ll find it worth it in the end.

Slack Bay (or Ma Loute) is not rated, was written and directed by Bruno Dumont and stars Juliette Binoche, Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Jean-Luc Vincent, Brandon Lavieville, Cyril Rigaux, Laura Dupré and of course Raph. More information about the film and Bruno Dumont can be found here:
  • Bruno Dumont on IMDB