Mammuth -- Film Review

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BERLIN -- Comprising a string of great visual and situational jokes before it suddenly self-destructs during the final third of its running time, "Mammuth" is a good example of a film that could have been.

Directed by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern, who have done the majority of their work as writers and actors on Canal Plus television and who are here rewarded with the likes of Gerard Depardieu, Isabelle Adjani and Yolande Moreau (who was so striking in "Vagabond," "Amelie" and "Seraphine"), the film seems to have been conceived principally as a laugh-a-thon rather than a coherent story with a clear trajectory.

Given the star power, one can imagine the film being popular on the festival circuit throughout the world and maybe even among niche distributors, perhaps in the U.S. but certainly in Europe. Its financial returns, however, will have even less staying power than its plot.

Depardieu is Mammuth, who has just turned 60 and is about to retire from his job in the slaughterhouse (an employment presumably chosen, as it so often seems to be in the movies, for its gross-out visual power). Unfortunately, his earlier employers have never done the requisite paperwork, mostly to avoid paying more taxes, and now he must go off in search of companies and managers who employed him 30 or 40 years earlier.

His transportation is his classic Mammuth motorcycle, a relic of the 1970s and the source of his nickname. A series of often sour but very funny encounters ensue until he meets up with his oddball artistic niece, who resuscitates him sexually and brings out the poet that he supposedly has always kept hidden inside.

In "Mammuth," Depardieu has attained a "stature" that some of his fans always have feared. His stomach is bigger than ever -- in fact, it's enormous, and he looks like he's more than 300 pounds -- and his stringy hair reaches all the way to his belly. It is not a pretty sight, especially when he's naked, and not too funny, either.

Adjani has gone in the other direction. Playing Yasmine, a kind of muse from Mammuth's youth who was killed in a motorcycle accident, she seems to be somewhere in her late 20s. One can only imagine what her plastic surgery bills must look like.

The jokes, especially in the first 30 minutes, really are funny, and Delepine and Kervern, as TV comedy writers, obviously excel in this area.

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They are droll, often outrageous and completely fresh. But as the road-movie aspect progresses, the jokes get less funny and the overall story seems to lose whatever point it once had.

The discovery of Mammuth's poetic "real self" seems utterly conventional, something just tacked on at the end of the scriptwriting, at the end of the film, to provide an unconvincing and uninvolving thread upon which to string the film's often hilarious individual pearls.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival -- Competition
Production: GMT Prods., No Money Prods.
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Yolande Moreau, Isabelle Adjani, Benoit Poelvoorde, Miss Ming. Directors-screenwriters: Benoit Delepine, Gustave Kervern
Producers: Jean-Pierre Guerin, No Money
Executive producer: Christophe Valette
Director of photography: Hugues Poulain
Production designer: Paul Chapelle
Music: Gaetan Roussel
Costume designer: Florence Laforge
Editor: Stephane Elmadjian
Sales: Funny Balloons
No rating, 90 minutes
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