Fair is Fair -- Film Review



PARIS -- Isabelle Mergault's previous comedy, "The Merry Widow," in which a middle-aged widow pursues happiness by following her heart's desire, was a massive box office hit. That followed an even bigger smash, "You Are so Beautiful," in which a middle-aged widower pursues happiness by seeking a new bed mate in eastern Europe. In her latest offering, "Fair is Fair" ("Donnant, donnant"), a middle-aged widow returns to life after her adopted daughter tries to have her murdered.

However, the sly wit and gentle humor of the earlier movies have edged over into slapdash farce and there is a distinct sense of diminishing returns. Mergault's many fans in France will probably salute, but foreign audiences may be less impressed.

The premise would make for an excellent black comedy (or Hitchcockian thriller). Constant (Daniel Auteuil), jailed after he killed a banker by accident, has a cerebral hemorrhage and, while in the hospital, manages to escape. He takes refuge in an abandoned houseboat but is discovered by Silvia (Medeea Marinescu). She offers him a deal: He can stay if he agrees to stiff her depressive adoptive mother Jeanne (Sabine Azema).

Unfortunately, Mergault omits the blackness and plays it for belly-laughs, with limited success. Constant has a speech defect as a result of his cerebral mishap and jumbles his words. His first act in his murder campaign is to save his intended victim from drowning after she attempts to commit suicide by plunging into a river. Romantic complications ensue as first mother then daughter take a shine to him. Local color is provided by a Greek chorus of neighbors in the small village where the action takes place -- a snooping housewife, a lovelorn adolescent, a gay hairdresser with a loquacious parrot.

The gags are hit or miss, but mostly miss. This film's for you if you think exclamations of "morfidable!" -- Constant's attempt to say "formidable" -- are hilarious. Auteuil mugs gamely, and Azema does her ditsy shtick as the bereaved accordionist whose lust for life is restored by Constant's mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

But the characters exist in a vacuum. It's never clear why Silvia should want to have her mother bumped off even with the prospect of an inheritance that would enable her to decamp to Paris to fulfill her ambition of becoming a concert pianist. And there's a grinding of gears in the closing minutes as Mergault contrives a rom-com style ending for which Auteuil is far too old.

Opened in France Oct. 6
Production credits: Gaumont, Thelma Films
Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Sabine Azema, Medeea Marinescu Jean-Louis Barcelona, Ariane Pirie, Julien Cafaro, Anne-Sophie Germanaz
Director: Isabelle Mergault
Writers: Isabelle Mergault, Jean-Pierre Hasson
Producers: Sidonie Dumas, Christine Gozlan
Director of photography: Jerome Almeras
Production designer: Maamar Ech-Cheikh
Music: Cecilem, Bob Lenox
Editor: Veronique Parnet
Sales: Gaumont International
No rating, 100 minutes