Less of a K.O. than a WTF, writer-director Fabrice Gobert’s second feature stars French pretty boy Laurent Lafitte (Elle) as a TV executive caught in a Mobius strip-style plot that has him dying, resurrecting, falling in and out of love with Chiara Mastroianni, and acting like a d-bag for most of the film’s two-hour running time.
It’s a lot to ask an audience to get hooked on, especially with a lead character who really has nothing to commend except his perfectly etched beard, but Gobert — who created the well-regarded supernatural TV series Les Revenants — manages to keep the suspense afloat for at least half the movie. After that, things pretty much fly off the rails in this vaguely Lynchian melange of The Player, Fight Club and Groundhog Day (to name a few flicks that seem to be referenced here), resulting in what feels like an exercise in genre-bending for the pure sake of it. Released in France to modest returns, K.O. could see a few pickups around Europe but will be a tough sell stateside.
When we first come across hotshot Parisian mogul Antoine (Lafitte), he rules his television news channel with an iron fist, insulting underlings, sleeping with future talent and incurring the wrath of his hardworking staff. The only chink in his armor seems to be Solange (Mastroianni), the station’s top anchorwoman and also Antoine’s lover — that is, until she decides to write a tell-all novel about what a creep he is.
With his icy demeanor, dark suits and awful behavior, Antoine is everything you love to hate about a Frenchman. Which is why, when a vindictive former employee shows up at the company headquarters and shoots him point blank, you’re kind of thinking, “Good riddance.”
Of course Antoine will survive, though the twist in the script by Gobert and co-writer Valentine Arnaud is that he comes back as a different person, at least to everyone else. Instead of being the channel’s head honcho, he’s merely the weatherman, and one who previously had a heart attack live on the air. Out of the hospital and back on the job, Antoine tries to find out what happened to his real self, making us question which version of him is reality and which is fantasy, and who’s dreaming of whom.
Lafitte, who is a member of the Comedie Francaise and the star of several hit comedies (not to mention the controversial master of ceremonies of last year’s Cannes Film Festival), is best when he’s playing smooth-talking smart alecks whose good looks often get them more than they bargained for (see Verhoeven’s Elle or the Daddy or Mommy movies). Here he’s all stiff-necked, dark and brooding, attempting to piece together the mystery behind his sudden metamorphosis, while also engaging in underground bare-knuckle brawls with other corporate types in one of the film’s more dubious attempts to confound the viewer.
Beyond those David Fincher-esque sequences, there are definitely nods to Robert Altman’s The Player early on, although in that film Tim Robbins’ conniving studio executive was part of a larger satire on Hollywood and the way it transforms our basest human behavior into bogus dreams to be consumed by the masses. There is no such vision of France or the French media in K.O., which is simply a compendium of puzzling scenes that keep us guessing up to a certain point, until characters shift identities too many times to keep up with and our fleeting interest in Antoine gets lost in the shuffle.
Gobert certainly has a talent for inserting weirdness into realistic settings — the best example being season one of Les Revenants — and the slick camerawork by Patrick Blossier (Days of Glory) manages to transform Paris into a gloomy, surreal nightscape where Antoine’s identity crisis takes center stage. If he weren’t so unpleasant a man to begin with, or if his relationship with Mastroianni’s character were anything beyond miserable, we could perhaps find it in our hearts to care about his curious fate. But K.O. leaves us with the lasting impression that Antoine may be better off dead.
Production company: 2.4.7. Films
Cast: Laurent Lafitte, Chiara Mastroianni, Pio Marmai, Clotilde Hesme, Zita Hanrot
Director: Fabrice Gobert
Screenwriters: Fabrice Gobert, Valentine Arnaud
Producers: Xavier Rigault, Marc-Antoine Robert
Director of photography: Patrick Blossier
Production designers: Frederic Lapierre, Frederique Lapierre
Costume designer: Bethsabee Dreyfus
Music: Jean-Benoit Dunckel
Editor: Philippe Gagnon
Casting: Emmanuelle Prevost
Sales: Wild Bunch