'Chubby' ('Bouboule'): Film Review

Courtesy of CAB Productions
Light humor leavens hard-eyed take on the humiliations of obesity

First-timer Bruno Deville draws on childhood experience of obesity to draw a full-frontal portrayal of a worldwide health hazard

Debut director Bruno Deville draws heavily on his own experiences to create the title character of his movie Chubby (Bouboule), a rare full-frontal view of a problem that the World Health Organization has declared to be a global epidemic: obesity. His story is pitched as a light comedy rooted in social realism, a hard-eyed look at the routine humiliations suffered by the seriously overweight relieved by touches of fantasy and dark humor. Deville's deft handling of a subject that may appear unprepossessing ensures that there will be an audience for this movie. While not exactly mainstream, Chubby has sufficient appeal to justify a punt on it breaking out of the confines of the arthouse circuit.

The 12-year-old Kevin, impressively played by newcomer David Thielemans, already weighs 220 pounds - as Deville did at the same age - and suffers from low self-esteem. His mother (Julie Ferrier) is affectionate but separated from his father. His breasts are as large as his sister's and he's regularly tormented by the neighborhood bullies. His doctor, warning of the prospect of an early death, compares his heart with an engine built for a moped but obliged to power a tank.

Things start to look up when he meets Patrick (Swann Arlaud), a security guard at the local supermarket, and his attack dog, a German shepherd called Rocco. Patrick - or Pat, as he prefers to be known, since "Patrick, that makes you sound like a hair-dresser" - is deeply into commando training. He speaks in short, sharp, staccato utterances, army fashion, and is full of stories about his time with Operation Unicorn, the French intervention force in west Africa. Patrick, we soon suspect, is something of a fantasist, but no matter, he's a role model for Chubby (Bouboule, his nickname in French, might be better translated as Blobby) who is soon happily joining in war-games in the woods. Kevin's friend Moukoumbi (Dodi Mbemba) - another marginal, being black - is recruited to play at being a "terrorist".

All good harmless fun, it seems, until Patrick and his work colleague and fellow commando enthusiast Claudi (Francois Hadji-Lazaro) give Kevin a security guard uniform and ask him to keep watch while they undertake some unspecified nighttime operation - a piece of breaking and entering, as it turns out, and Kevin's illusions are shattered.

Deville's ending is finely judged, neither chastening nor unduly upbeat. Kevin's experiences have taught him how to demand respect and to live more at ease with his body, and he's acquired a new friend from an unexpected source, but there's no miracle cure for his condition. Nor is there any preaching or message in a narrative in which observation and truth of detail stand in for narrative drive. The occasional fantasy scenes work well, and the alternately acidulated and saturated coloring of Jean-Francois Hensgens' cinematography discreetly underscores the story's mixture of realistic and surreal elements. Arlaud's Patrick, initially sinister, ends up a figure of pathos, and there's poetry in the dreamy, eyes-half-closed gaze that Thielemans, as Kevin, deploys at the film's close.

Production companies: CAB Productions (Switzerland), Versus Production (Belgium)
Director: Bruno Deville
Cast: David Thielemans, Swann Arlaud, Julie Ferrier, Francois-Hadji Lazaro, Lisa Harder, Dodi Mbemba, Stefan Liberski
Writers: Antoine Jaccoud, Bruno Deville 
Producers: Gwenaelle Libert, Jacques-Henri Bronckart, Olivier Bronckart 
Director of Photography: Jean-Francois Hensgens
Editor: Valentin Rotelli
Music: Matthieu Chedid (as "M") 
International sales: Films Distribution

No rating, 84 minutes