'Heavy Duty' ('Convoi exceptionnel'): Film Review

Heavy Duty Still 1 - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Curiosa Film/Orange Studio/Les Productions Chaocrop/Ouille Productions/Versus Production
Two characters tiredly in search of an author.

Veteran French writer-director Bertrand Blier's latest feature stars Gerard Depardieu and Christian Clavier.

In Bertrand Blier’s Heavy Duty (Convoi exceptionnel), the 80-year-old French auteur revisits some of the themes that have marked his oeuvre ever since his 1974 breakout hit, Going Places (Les Valseuses), which was a rambunctious and altogether scandalous road movie starring the late Patrick Dewaere alongside a young Gerard Depardieu.

This time, Depardieu, who’s now 70, partakes in another sort of road trip, teaming up with comic star Christian Clavier (Serial (Bad) Weddings) in a meta-fictional narrative about two men trying to make their way through a film that keeps rewriting itself aloud. There’s something playful and Pirandello-like in Blier’s approach here, although the blatant misogyny of certain scenes — which is something prevalent throughout the director’s work; Going Places was a comedy about two thugs committing various acts of sexual aggression — makes this project feel like it belongs in another epoch, as do a bunch of jokes that never really hit their mark. Blier enthusiasts will likely be the only takers of his first film since 2010's The Clink of Ice.

Heavy Duty breaks the fourth wall in its opening minutes, introducing two strangers, Taupin (Depardieu) and Foster (Clavier), who cross paths in the middle of a traffic jam and then start discussing the screenplay of the very movie we’re watching. The script in question tells them to go and assassinate another complete stranger — there are echoes of Blier’s cult film noir from 1979, Buffet froid, also starring Depardieu — kicking off a series of random events that are only connected by the fact they’ve been written down on paper.

Blier's films are famous in France for their droll tete-a-tetes and surreal, Bunuel-esque situations, as well as for the innate sexism of their predominantly male-dominated stories. (One of the posters for Blier's 1976 comedy, Femmes Fatales, features a nude women with her legs spread-eagled as a man casually pours himself a glass of wine in the background.)

There’s lots of surrealism and sexism on display here, with the latter especially evident in a scene where Foster’s wife (Alexandra Lamy) boasts about how good the lovemaking was when she cheated on him, another where Foster reminisces about a voluptuous client who came into his lingerie shop and allowed him to personallyt give her a bra fitting, and yet another where Taupin remembers a supermarket cashier’s panties with much longing and regret.

Nostalgia seems to be l’ordre du jour here, although nobody is really nostalgic these days for the misogyny of years past. And yet, there’s a melancholic tone hovering over Heavy Duty and its aging lost souls that can be touching at times, especially in the scenes involving a woman named Esther (played by Blier's wife, Farida Rahoadj), who the pair meets outside of a boulangerie in the wee morning hours. That sequence, as well as one right after where the three of them tread through a silent, snow-filled city, offers up a brief hint of poetry in an otherwise lumbering and talky affair.

Alongside Depardieu and Clavier, who are both fine as a pair of semi-senile perfect strangers, the cast features Audrey Dana and Alex Lutz as a showrunner and head writer on what appears to be the film at hand — or else some fictive TV series based on it. Constantly reminding the characters to stick to the script, and using their writing staff as ruthless enforcers, they seem to be the director’s way of mocking France’s, and the rest of the world’s, current infatuation for televised content that's created by committee in writers rooms. It’s all rather easy satire about the filmmaking process and the entertainment industry at large, and it once again manages to give Blier the last word.  

Production companies: Curiosa Films, Orange Studio, Les Productions Chaocrop, Ouille Productions, Versus Production
Cast: Gerard Depardieu, Christian Clavier, Farida Rahouadj, Alex Lutz, Audrey Dana, Sylvie Testud
Director-screenwriter: Bertrand Blier
Producer: Olivier Delbosc
Executive producer: Christine de Jekel
Director of photography: Hichame Alaouie
Production designer: Veronique Sacrez
Costume designer: Jacqueline Bouchard
Editor: Marion Monestier
Composer: Benjamin Murat
Sales: Orange Studio

In French
82 minutes