French filmmaker Francis Veber has an amusing device in many of his films; he
includes a leading character named François whose surname can be either Perrin or
Pignon. François has been embodied most often by actor Pierre Richard in
LE GRAND BLOND AVEC UNE CHAUSSURE NOIR, LE JOUET, LA CHEVRE,
and LES FUGITIFS. Jacques Villeret inherited the role in LE DINER DE CONS,
and the most recent actor to step into the character is the great Daniel Auteuil in Veber’s
one-joke comedy THE CLOSET (LE PLACARD).
Auteuil’s Pignon is a rather insignificant accountant at a condom factory whom
everyone essentially overlooks. He’s left out of the company portrait. He’s considered dull
and boring. In fact, he’s due to be made redundant, a fact he overhears the bearish director
of personnel Santini (Gérard Depardieu) brag about in the men’s room. Pignon grows
despondent. He’s still in love with his ex-wife, who wants nothing to do with him, while
their teenage son makes excuses not to spend time with his father.
Pignon’s life is completely altered one evening when he discovers a kitten on the
terrace of his apartment which his new neighbor Belone (Michel Aumont) claims.
Sometimes when one is troubled, pouring out one’s heart to a relative stranger helps,
so Pignon reveals his problem. Soon, Belone has come up with an idea; he will send
photographs of Pignon in a compromising situation with another man anonymously
to Pignon’s boss, ostensibly to create a climate where the company becomes concerned
over a sexual discrimination lawsuit. All of a sudden, boring little Pignon is the hot topic
of conversation. He hasn’t changed, but people’s perception of him has. The bigoted
Santini is told he must be nicer to Pignon and the results are amusing to a degree as
he is literally driven mad by the experience.
The underlying message of the film is basically the same one in TOOTSIE: by
pretending to be someone you’re not, you will learn more about yourself and those
around you and emerge a better person. Whether the action unfolds on the set of a
soap opera or in the confines of an office, the politics and political correctness of the
workplace takes precedence.
Veber’s script skirts very close to being offensive to gay men but he doesn’t
quite cross the line. Some may come to see that Veber is saying that being gay
can be advantageous, but of course, despite all the advances, that is still not the
case, particularly in France. There’s a tinge of condescension in his theory that
might rankle more than a few people.
Veber’s direction is light and the pace is appropriately rapid. There are a couple
of sight gags that are so silly they are funny even if they play with stereotypes. He
elicits fine work from Auteuil in the leading role, which is more passive than the
actor generally plays. One of France’s best contemporary actors, Auteuil probably
could make reading the phone book interesting. Depardieu is fine in the early scenes
as the gruff, prejudiced businessman. As he has to “soften,” though, he becomes
less interesting and by the time he suffers his breakdown, he borders on insufferable.
Aumont is adequate as the plotting neighbor. Michele Laroque does a fine job as
Pignon’s superior who is both attracted to and repelled by him.
Despite its attempt at conveying a message, THE CLOSET remains fluffy and
amusing. It’s only in retrospect that you realize just how absurd it is, but then that’s
the way so many things in life are.
MPAA Rating: R for a scene of sexuality
Running time: 84 mins
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.