Greetings again from the darkness. Dysfunctional families are common fodder in films for the simple reason that most of us can relate … or at least walk away being grateful that ours isn’t THAT bad. I do trust (and hope) that your family bears little resemblance to the Dumontet clan at the center of this film from writer-director Sebastien Marnier and co-writer Fanny Burdino. This is a story filled with deceit and greed and conniving folks who make any of the reality TV housewives seem like Mother Teresa.
This is a tricky film to discuss while attempting to not spoil anything, so understand some of this is vague by design. Laure Calamy takes the lead as a line worker at an anchovy packaging plant. Her lesbian lover (Suzanne Clement) is incarcerated, and the money problems are piling up. She reaches out to the Dumontets to see if patriarch Serge (Jacques Weber) will accept his long-lost daughter, Stefane, back into the family. Jacques agrees, and soon she is on a boat to visit the ultra-rich Serge, who lives in a mansion on an island in the south of France.
As it turns out, Serge is the least of her worries. His wife Louise (Dominique Blanc) is an eccentric and colorful shopaholic or spendaholic who takes each day as a challenge to buy more items online and through TV shows. Daughter George (Doria Tillier) is a taskmaster who runs the family business and has no time for the newly-discovered sister. There is also George’s teenage daughter (Celeste Brunnquell) who mostly broods and looks forward to the day she can escape. Lastly, we have Agnes (Veronique Ruggia), the longtime housekeeper who is also not in favor of adding one more plate to the dinner table.
Director Marnier presents us a cast of nutjob characters, each who carries a secret and is working part of a self-serving scheme. Back-stabbing seems to be a shared family trait, and at times (2 times precisely) it spirals into murder. An extensive use of split screen allows Marnier to convey the duplicitous and conniving happenings. The accompanying music often makes use of a pipe organ – a sound rarely heard in movies that aren’t 1940’s horror films. Yes, the film is heavy on camp, but it’s also heavy on heavy, making the comedic moments even more effective.
Dominique Blanc is wonderful in her role, yet it’s Laure Calamy whose performance truly stands out and makes the story work. The set decoration is unlike anything we’ve seen before (taxidermy and VHS tapes are front and center), and the film acts as yet another skewering of the rich (at least it’s not rich Americans this time). Fans of Claude Chabrol will appreciate the homage, and most of us cringe at the unstable personalities in this dysfunctional family and its affiliates. It’s unclear how best to label this – comedy, mystery, suspense – but regardless of the label, there is a bit of fun in watching the entitled get a taste of comeuppance.
Opens in select theaters and On Demand beginning September 22, 2023