Monday, 26 January 2009

DVD Review: Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché

At the time of writing, the ‘comedy’ Paul Blart – Mall Cop is the top rated film in North America. Few of the mouth-breathing masses who saw it know that this harmless piece of Hollywood tripe is actually based on a 2006 French film, entitled Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché. Next week, in a hasty attempt to cash in on Blart’s success, International Film Distribution Ltd will be releasing the original French film on DVD, hoping for some of the American film’s popularity to rub off on it. Given that I didn’t have anything better to do with my Saturday (thanks for standing me up, Dave), I decided to see how the original fared.

Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché is certainly very different to its English-language equivalent. For a start, the main plot is not about a hapless mall security guard who is forced to defend his place of work from a group of robbers, as in Blart. Instead, the plotline revolves around the existential confusion of the eponymous Blarteau, whose life plays out in a series of black and white scenes involving lost balloons, strange asexual children and an idiot savant who constantly breaks wind and laughs.

While those familiar with avant garde French cinema will be well aware of the motifs in use here, those expecting a humorous romp involving Segways, small dogs and overweight losers will be let down. Indeed, the only comic relief in this film comes from Bufo, the aforementioned farter, and even then his appearances become more and more tinged with sadness. Such visual metaphors for time’s unthinking – and unending - futility are certainly absent from the American comedy.

Moreover, the romantic subplot in Paul Blart is definitely a new addition that does not appear in the French original. In Blart’s Gallic precursor, the film’s only romance is the ten-minute scene in which Blarteau looks longingly at a small rotten onion, sighing with melancholy and ignoring the calls for help of a nearby shoplifted store owner.

In Paul Blart: Mall Cop there are many visual jokes that occur thanks to the considerable size and weight of lead actor Kevin James. By comparison, Jean-Paul Blarteau’s lead actor, Patrice Delpeche, is incredibly thin, leading the viewer to see him as half a person, as if he isn’t really there. As the film goes on, Blarteau appears to shrink from view, as the weight of his own existence pushes him further and further away from himself. As such, this does not lend itself to slapstick getting-trapped-in-an-air-vent antics.

All in all, Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché is a very thought-provoking film, with deep, challenging insights into the nature of being and the monotony of subsistence. It isn’t for everyone, and it should probably be avoided by all the cretins who queued up for tickets to Paul Blart this weekend.

Jean-Paul Blarteau – Gendarme de l’Hypermarché is available next Monday from International Film Distribution Ltd. DVD extras include a ten hour documentary on the beauty of a popped balloon and a behind-the-scenes look at some garlic.


Red said...

Am I weird for thinking l'Hypermarche is the greatest word ever?

Erin Alberty said...

So sad neither screened at Sundance.

BeckEye said...

But was it better than "Cry, Cry Again?"