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9 Month Stretch (9 mois ferme): San Sebastian Review

9 Month Stretch - H 2013

The Bottom Line

A visually inventive but throwaway odd couple comedy that happily revels in its own crowd-pleasing vulgarity.

Venue

San Sebastian Film Festival (Pearls)

Director

Albert Dupontel

High-energy black comedy from lucrative French actor-director Albert Dupontel.

A disposable, crowd-pleasing black comedy which gets its laughs from cartoonishly puncturing the pomposities of the French legal system, 9 Month Stretch has no higher ambitions than to raise a laugh, and mostly it succeeds. A solid cast, lots of attention to the visuals and a defiantly unsophisticated sense of humor are the hallmarks of Albert Dupontel’s follow-up to The Villain. There is some remake potential here, but only the germ of the idea could be successfully transplanted; a decent showing at home following its Oct. 16 release is likely to be followed by limited screenings in Francophone territories.

Ariane Felder (Sandrine Kimberlain) is an uptight, ambitious, defiantly single (“children act out a tragedy written by their parents”) court judge, who unwillingly gets dragged into a New Year party. Six months later, and Ariane is pregnant with no idea about how is happened or who’s responsible. Suspecting her leering colleague Godfrey (Philippe Uchan), Ariane takes a lump out of his head with a golf club so as to test his DNA, the first of a series of gags involving heavy objects and the hapless Godfrey.

Surveillance cameras eventually reveal, in a nice comic scene featuring a one-stop appearance by Bouli Lanners, that on the night in question Ariane slept with Bob Nolan (director Dupontel), a slow-witted criminal known as the Eye Gobbler. Eventually Ariane and Nolan find themselves locked in her flat together, with him threatening to reveal the truth unless she agrees to defend him in his forthcoming court case.

Subtle it is not. Much of the comedy is gore-based or otherwise tasteless (see Nicolas Marie as Nolan’s hopeless, stammering lawyer or a particularly bloody scene featuring a ham-fisted forensic scientist), and though the film has multiple targets, mainly the hypocrisies of the French legal systems, its arrows are never barbed.

On the visual side it’s like Amelie on steroids, as through the first half hour the camera cartoonishly sweeps, circles, zooms and pans as though afraid of pausing for even a moment as it goes in search of the next sight-gag. But there is plenty of gratifying visual wit mixed in, too: a flashback sequence showing Nolan’s supposed attack on an old man is done very smoothly indeed, as is the computer trickery involving DNA readings: technically, this is very accomplished fare.

The cast, also required to play it in the spirit of Tex Avery, is largely reprised from The Villain, in which the actor used his own chameleon-like features – his face can switch from threatening to eye-twinklingly charming in an instant – to similarly good effect. Here the ham-ometer is turned up to full as characters who in some cases seem to have been chosen on the basis of their rubbery features duly deliver.

Terry Gilliam, from whose own work Stretch borrows many of its visual cues, whilst lacking Gilliam’s moral darkness – one scene features a lopping-off of limbs that’s pure Python - pops up as a behind-bars psychopath. Jean Dujardin (acclaimed lead in The Artist) also briefly cameos as a translator.

Production: Wild Bunch, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Sandrine Kiberlain, Albert Dupontel, Nicolas Marie, Philippe Uchan, Bouli Lanners, Christian Hecq    
Director, screenwriter: Albert Dupontel
Producer: Catherine Bozorgan
Director of photography: Vincent Mathias
Production designer: Pierre Queffelean
Costume designer: Mimi Lempicka
Editor: Christophe Pinel
Music: Christophe Julien
Sales: Elle Driver
No rating, 82 minutes