'Ablations': Film Review

Ad Vitam
A darkly absurd thriller that’s as far-fetched as it is funny, whether intentionally or not.

Denis Menochet ("Inglourious Basterds") and Virginie Ledoyen ("Farewell, My Queen") star in this genre-bender from writer Benoit Delepine and director Arnold de Parscau.

There’s a famous urban legend about a guy getting drunk, passing out and then waking up the next day with a missing kidney. Taking that concept literally, screenwriter Benoit Delepine and first-time director Arnold de Pascau offer up a surreal and stylish thriller in Ablations, starring French tough guy Denis Menochet as a man who does what he can to get his stolen organ back, only to lose much of his brain in the process. Well-crafted yet more and more ludicrous as the plot thickens, this Franco-Belgian venture should see moderate returns for a mid-July local release, while overseas genre labels could pick it up as pure VOD fodder.

After a night of heavy partying, pharmaceutical salesman Pastor (Menochet) awakes with a bad hangover and one kidney shy of a full pair. Trying to piece together what happened, he embarks on a dangerous mission that takes him to some strange and unsettling places, all the while drifting away from his jealous (and horny) wife (Virginie Ledoyen) into the arms of an obsessive (and horny) physician (Florence Thomassin). Meanwhile, the culprits are soon revealed to be a pair of evil senior citizens (Philippe Nahon and Yolande Moreau) on a nation-wide organ hunt without the cops -- or anyone else in France -- ever getting involved.

If that sounds pretty ridiculous, Ablations nonetheless remains a mostly watchable genre-jumper, thanks in part to de Parscau’s stylish direction, which owes a clear debt to Gaspard Noe and David Lynch (whose “Good Day Today” video was helmed by de Parscau); one creepy night club sequence plays out like Mulholland Drive minus the elegance, or Irreversible minus the poppers and fists.

And while the movie actually lose suspense as the narrative progresses, writer Delepine -- who co-directed the films Mammuth and Le Grand soir with Gustave Kervern -- throws in some bizarre bits of comedy late in the game, including a scene where Pastor and a failed veterinarian (the funny Philippe Rebbot) break into a man’s house to steal back our hero’s kidney. It’s an absurd sequence -- “du grand n’importe quoi,” as the French would say -- but also quite hilarious, as is what happens just after when Pastor brings the heisted organ over to his girlfriend’s house.

Whether or not the humor was intentional is unclear at times, especially as Ablations seems to start off as a brooding portrait of one man’s physical and psychological breakdown, only to shift into slapstick territory, concluding with an underwritten finale that features what may be one of the lamest coincidences in recent cinema. It’s as if the filmmakers had already thrown in the towel twenty minutes earlier, and what we’re left with is a movie that loses track of itself the way Pastor winds up losing his mind.

Despite all the inconsistencies, the performances are solid throughout, and Menochet (Inglourious Basterds, Grand Central) boldly carries his bulky, exhausted frame from one scene to another, as if the bad guys not only stole a kidney but also one of his lungs and a good portion of his cerebellum. Supporting cast is well-chosen, although Ledoyen often seems lost as a desperate housewife stuck with two bratty kids and a designer loft that looks like a Lynchian version of the Crate & Barrel catalogue.

Atmospheric cinematography by Francois Catonne (The Clink of Ice) -- all slow tracking shots and frosted light -- as well as an eerie score by Matthieu Gonet and Sylvain Goldberg help give a uniform aesthetic sheen to an otherwise wildly fluctuating story.

Production companies: JPG Films, No Money Productions, Nexus Factory, Ad Vitam
Cast: Denis Menochet, Virginie Ledoyen, Yolande Moreau, Florence Thomassin, Philippe Nahon
Director: Arnold de Parscau
Screenwriter: Benoit Delepine
Producers: Jean-Pierre Guerin, Benoit Delepine, Sylvain Goldberg, Serge de Poucques
Director of photography: Francois Catonne
Production designer: Patrick Colpaert
Costume designer: Catherine Marchand
Editor: Pascale Chavance
Composers: Matthieu Gonet, Sylvain Goldberg
Sales agent: Funny Balloons

No rating, 93 minutes