Le Roi de l'evasion -- Film Review

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CANNES -- What's it like to be gay, middle-aged and a traveling tractor salesman in the French boondocks? Clearly, not tres grande. That's the recipe for this ripe, mid-life crisis comedy about sexual and political mores.

Playing in the Directors' Fornight, "Le Roi de l'evasion" stars Lucovic Berthillot as Armand, a pudgy solid citizen who has tired of the "gay scene," such as it is, in his small town. Armand is depressed, napping on the job and binge eating. He's turned 40 and his life is going nowhere. His employer suggests a vacation, but it's a chance "rescue" of a 16-year-old girl that snaps him back -- or backward, as his friends see it.

After paying off teen thugs to stop harassing a pretty teen, Curly, Armand becomes an unlikely white-knight. The nubile girl develops a huge crush on him and makes strong sexual advances.

Down to story briefs, filmmaker Alain Guiraudie has crafted an amusing and often perceptive comedy about middle-aged gay angst, and he's stroked it with the most incendiary comic catalyst -- the gay man tries to transform his life by becoming bisexual. At the same time, Curly is trying to escape her repressive parents, and latching onto a older male is an obvious outlet.

As one might expect with such a mis-matched pairing, things don't go swimmingly. However, In this amusement, it makes for some funny, farcical sex as the pudgy Armand and the libidinous school-girl rut around in the woods, unable to truly consummate. The incongruity of it all soon wears thin, as do some other weightier issues -- age of consent, civic hypocrisy, simplistic sex-offender laws -- that are sprayed into the mix but never coalesce. Unfortunately, Guiraudie merely titillates with these issues, and the film loses potency as the extreme premise ultimately droops.

What keeps it going are the strong performances. As the befuddled Armand, Ludovic Berthillot is sympathetic, while Hafsia Herzi sizzles as the rebellious schoolgirl.

"Le Roi" is most potent in its visual comedy. A series of scenes in which town officials partake of some sort of super root in the woods and then become outrageously aroused, shedding their clothes and performing sexual solos on the spot, are hilarious. Ultimately, "Le Roi de l' Evasion" evades its more serious underside for its momentary farcical romps.
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