Jacky in the Kingdom of Women (Jacky au royaume des filles): Rotterdam Review

Who run the world? (Girls).

Writer-director Riad Sattouf’s political comedy co-stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Noemie Lvovsky and Oscar winner Michel Hazanavicius.

It’s raining men -- and they’re wearing full-body chadors and rhinestone dog leashes -- in Jacky in the Kingdom of Women (Jacky au royaume des filles), an outrageous political satire that depicts an imagined matriarchy where girls rule the world with an iron fist.

Parts Cinderella and Barbarella, with lots of Zucker Bros.-style zaniness tossed in, this sophomore feature from comic book auteur-turned-director Riad Sattouf (The French Kissers) offers up an amusing, and often piercing, critique of dictatorships both past and present, as well as of the female condition in certain Muslim countries (Sattouf himself hails from Syria, and the film was partially inspired by his own experiences there). But while Jacky give us plenty to chew on, it’s also too unhinged and well, wacky, to bring its message home, and will play best as a cult comedy item after a late-January Gallic release and international premiere in Rotterdam.

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In the fictive land of Bubunne, women dominate an impoverished nation where everyone worships a supreme General (Anemone), eats the same centrally-distributed slop and watches a single television channel filled with propaganda parades and bad soap operas. Men, meanwhile, are treated as nothing more than household slaves, forced to wear full-length headscarves and, if they’re lucky, designated by their good looks or family wealth to marry upwards.

This is the hope of Jacky (Vincent Lacoste), a young dreamer first seen profusely masturbating to an official portrait of the Colonel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) -- a stone-faced soldier who will soon be taking over leadership from her aging mother, and is currently seeking out the perfect husband (or as they’re called here: "couillon," a French insult that translates roughly to "moron" or "dickhead").

But in order to attend the ball where the coveted groom will be chosen, Jacky needs to save up a sizeable chunk of change, and the task becomes near impossible when his mother (Laure Marsac) dies and his uncle (Michel Hazanavicius) is imprisoned for treason. Forced to work as a servant for his evil aunt (Noemie Lvovsky) and uncle (Didier Bourdon), while suffering insults at the hands of their goofball sons (William Lebghil, Anthony Sonigo), Jacky finally gets a break -- and a chance to capture the Colonel’s heart -- when both divine and masculine intervention wind up sending him into the heart of the empire.

Sattouf -- whose Superbad-style debut, The French Kissers, played the Directors’ Fortnight and went on to box office success in France -- fills the film’s early sections with his trademark cruel humor, revealing a world where women take deep pleasure in their absolute power, reveling in the General’s weekly hanging sessions and pushing their spouses around to no end. On the other side, men are depicted as both frightened and entirely complacent, engaging in petty squabbles over the few bones they’re tossed while hoping, at best, to be cavorted around as the Colonel’s dog. (The male costumes, courtesy of Olivier Ligen, feature neck-rings to which a leash can be hooked -- that is if a man is lucky enough to find a bride.)

As ridiculous as that all sounds, the ways of Bubunne do not seem completely far off when one thinks of say, North Korea under the Kim regimes, or of the customs practiced in some of the more traditionalist Middle Eastern states. And while Sattouf never engages in direct finger-pointing here, his comedy is often pertinent and meaningful, even if he also has a tendency to pile on the gags, especially in a third act that overdoes it on the ‘80’s-brand humor and somewhat flies off the rails.

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Shooting on location in Georgia (the country), cinematographer Josee Deshaies (House of Tolerance) makes good use of all the Soviet-era architecture, especially the workers’ village where Jacky is raised and the presidential palace where he winds up. A rock 'n' roll score by Sattouf serves as a nice counterpoint to the setting, veering away from your typical comedy soundtrack and giving everything a bluesy sort of feel.

20-year-old Lacoste (who debuted in The French Kissers) is perfect in the lead role, playing everything straight no matter how silly the movie can get (and it does get silly). Gainsbourg is completely stone-faced as an heir to the throne with hidden motives, while cameos by Lvovsky, Bourdon and Valerie Bonneton -- in a scene where Jacky is nearly raped by three female soldiers -- are all worth it. And let’s not forget Oscar-winning director Hazavanacius (The Artist), cast here as a rebel leader who, when he’s not printing up political tracts, works as the realm's most preferred prostitute.

Production companies: Les Films des Tournelles, Pathe Orange Studio, Alvy Distribution, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Vincent Lacoste, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Didier Bourdon, Anemone, Michel Hazanavicius, Noemie Lvovsky, Valerie Bonneton
Director, screenwriter: Riad Sattouf
Producer: Anne-Dominique Toussaint
Director of photography: Josee Deshaies
Production designer: Alain Guffroy
Costume designer: Olivier Ligen
Music: Riad Sattouf
Editor: Virginie Bruant
Sales agent: Pathe International, Orange Studio
No rating, 89 minutes