Cannes, Critics Week

CANNES -- Why change a winning team? Such is the argument underlying "Rumba," the follow-up by Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel and Bruno Romy to their critically successful but commercially underperforming slapstick comedy "The Iceberg," which played at Cannes two years ago.

The winsome threesome will be hoping for better returns from their latest foray into gentle whimsy and physical comedy whose style is usually associated with silent movies. However, there is no more evidence now that the general public is ready for a revival of Tati-esque humor, the trio's trademark. Festivals and arthouse circuits appear to be the natural home for "Rumba."

Fiona and Dom (played, of course, by Gordon and Abel) are a married couple who teach at a rural school in northern France and share a passion for Latin dancing. Driving back from a weekend competition, they swerve to avoid a man (Romy) on a suicide mission and crash into a wall. Fiona loses a leg and Dom his memory. They are then separated following a fire in which their house burns down.

This simple narrative serves as a peg on which Gordon, an Australian-born Canadian, and her Belgian partner Abel hang what is essentially a series of sketches and visual gags. Many of them are wordless -- as with "The Iceberg," dialogue is at a premium -- and take place within a fixed frame.

There is much in "Rumba" to please discerning audiences. Pre-title sequences are particularly inventive. Gordon and Abel make imaginative use of back-projection, notably during the hectic car journey in which they rush back home to fetch their dancing clothes, and of overhead shots and shadow-play to highlight their dance routines. There is plenty of slapstick, too, but the couple's humor is mostly deadpan. Responses will range from guffaws to a twitch of the lips, according to taste.

Perhaps the movie could best be considered a family entertainment -- a little of something for everyone. One admires the commitment of the filmmakers and freshness of much of the material, but the rarified nature of the humor means that the movie never fully engages.

Production companies: MK2, Courage Mon Amour, RTBF
Cast: Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Bruno Romy, Philippe Martz, Clement Morel.
Directors/screenwriters: Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel, Bruno Romy.
Executive producers: Claire Dornoy, Abel & Gordon.
Produces: Marin Karmitz, Nathanael Karmitz, Charles Gillibert, Abel & Gordon.
Photography: Claire Childeric.
Production design: Nicolas Girault.
Costumes: Claire Dubien.
Editor: Sandrine Deegen.

Sales: MK2 Diffusion.
No MPAA rating, 77 minutes.

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