'Fatigue' wears, but wins in end


"Grosse Fatigue" isn't too clever by half, only about a sixth or an eighth. Opening today at the Charles, it's one of those zippy Pirandellian constructions that turns amusingly in upon itself and its creator's life until it comes to seem almost claustrophobic. Fortunately, Michel Blanc is lovable enough to send you out of the theater after an hour and a half's immersion in the total Michel Blanc experience without wanting to strangle him.

And I don't want to strangle him. I just want to beat him up a little. Maybe cuff him around, make him cry, bark like a dog, oink like a pig, promise to be good and never to annoy me again.

In this film he plays himself, Michel Blanc, French director and movie star beloved for his bald-headed cuteness and sophisticated comedy genius; and he plays his own exact double (not an evil twin, per se, but close), who lacks the true Michel's good taste and refinement and insists on cashing in on the similarity of appearance in cheap and sleazy ways.

For a while, it's good black fun as the real Michel (think: Woody Allen with too much cellulite and not enough hair), a man of consummate taste and culture, to say nothing of pedigreed friends, keeps running into baffling evidence of another Michel Blanc: one who judges striptease contests, uses his celebrity as a bludgeon to get sex from statuesque show-biz wannabes, grubs after small sums of money for crass things like supermarket openings -- and so on and so forth.

This is not amusing to him, though it's always amusing to us, as nothing pleases the heart's natural Schadenfreude more than watching somebody's very nice life unravel, ho ho ho. It should happen to more comfortable people, other than, of course, me. Michel complains to his pal Carole Bouquet (Carole Bouquet) and the two of them set out after the impostor, even after the impostor's shenanigans are getting more and more out of control.

Bouquet is an imposing cinema icon, a former Bond girl who never bought into the Hollywood crapola and stayed in France, where she's become a big star. With her square face and eyes radiating intelligence and intensity, she makes a perfect foil to the soft round li'l pudge that is Blanc. They're a Mutt et Jeff for the ages.

But once they catch the impostor, the movie gets a little cute for my taste. There's a lot of dopey split-screen stuff, with the two Blancs bickering back and forth, that don't amuse so much as grate. The drama becomes one of usurpation, in which faux Blanc gradually nudges his way into Blanc proper's life, replaces him and turns out to be a much better Michel Blanc than the original. Meanwhile, the original schemes to get his old life back.

Still, for most of its running time, "Grosse Fatigue" is acidly funny, particularly in its evocation of big-deal film culture in Paris. It ends with a nice little twist when the magnificently rumpled Phillipe Noiret puts in an appearance and his astringency dries up Blanc's vanity.

'Grosse Fatigue'

Starring Michel Blanc and Carole Bouquet

Directed by Michel Blanc

Released by Miramax

Unrated (nudity)


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