Synopsis: Buffet Froid has logic that is both twisted and stark: a husband befriends his wife’s murderer, a high-ranking official plans his own assassination, a lost knife is found in the belly of a subway passenger. Together with the Chief of Police and a murderer who is afraid of the dark, Depardieu is drawn into an inescapable complicity of murder, treachery and paranoia which draws him closer to a fateful end.
Buffet Froid 8.25
‘Buffet froid’ is a film that I stumbled upon at the library some 15 years ago. I had no idea what it was, what to expect or what impact it would have on me. I simply wanted to watch a movie, and it was there. Why I picked it over the countless hundreds of titles that they had, I couldn’t say. Perhaps it was one of the only ones I hadn’t yet seen. (Heh… that would hardly be surprising… )
So I took it home, sat back and experienced a motion picture like I had never known before. Or since.
‘Buffet froid’ is a surrealistic tale – not in a Dali-esque fashion (i.e. visually), but in a Buñuel kind of way. If one were to analyze the plot and its development, it would make no sense whatsoever: the characters’ various behaviours are inexplicable, ungrounded in normal human psychology. And to top it all off, many of the twists and turns don’t appear to be rooted in reality either – things happen with no real explanation.
The opening sequence, for instance, is quite indicative of the kind of film we’re dealing with:
A man is sitting in an empty subway station. There is no one around, no trains, no sounds. Then another man (played by Gérard Depardieu) walks across the whole platform just to go sit behind him. Depardieu stares at him passively for no apparent reason. Annoyed, the man asks him what he’s looking at, to which he gets the response: “your ear”.
From there ensues a nonsensical conversation that includes talk of murdering people and Depardieu pulls a knife. The man is frightened, thinking that Depardieu wants to kill him. Depardieu, realizing his mistake, gives the man his knife, who promptly tosses it away. After further exchanges, the two realize that the knife has disappeared. As they are alone and he knows that he himself didn’t take the knife, the man becomes deeply frightened of Depardieu and, when a train finally comes, runs off – leaving Depardieu to walk home alone.
On his way up an underground tunnel, Depardieu finds the man lying on the ground, with a knife in his gut. They casually talk, without passion, and the man tells Depardieu that his aggressor looked quite like him. He then tells him that he should take the knife, because it looks like the one that they threw away earlier. Concerned that it is his knife and that his fingerprint would be all over it, Depardieu takes the knife back.
Then the man also offers his wallet, knowing that Depardieu is out of work, and figuring that he no longer has a need for it. Depardieu accepts. They say farewell, and Depardieu walks away, wondering if he might have killed the man – even though it’s quite impossible that he did.
None of this makes any sense. The actions and reactions of the characters are completely out of synch with typical human behaviour. The conclusions that they come to are ridiculous when observed from a purely logical standpoint. And yet, already, a few elements are completely inexplicable in a real world situation: where did the knife go? How could the man be stabbed by that same knife and by someone who looks like Depardieu – even thought it can’t actually be Depardieu?
In ‘Buffet froid’, one simply has to let the film take us on its journey; one has to let it flow without questions or restraints. The ideal way to experience the picture is to relish the absurdity of the moments, to take them at face value without judging their merit. In so doing, one can find in ‘Buffet froid’ a rather humourous tale, one that is no less absurd than other dark comedies such as ‘Dr. Strangelove’ – the chief difference being that ‘Dr. Strangelove’ could actually have happened.
If anything, ‘Buffet froid’ appears to be a commentary on the dehumanization of our society, in the gradual stripping away of human connections via urbanization. At about the midway point, when a murderer complains that he kills because he’s driven mad by all the concrete and that all he wants is to see a damned tree somewhere, what we’re getting is a comment on the speed at which newly-sprawling cities were overwhelming its citizens in the ’70s.
I always found that particular comment (or brief speech) to be a key point of the film, even though I hadn’t placed it in the grand scheme of things until now. It was such a dramatic moment for some reason: for once a character was saying something seemingly meaningful, after close to an hour of bizarre exchanges. But, watching it this time, it occurred to me that it very much reflected everything that we had been seeing so far and, thus, was likely the central theme of the movie itself.
After all, the ‘Buffet froid’ is over-stuffed with massive empty spaces built out of cold concrete: the subway in the opening sequence, the large high-rise with no tenants in it and an empty lot, the underground parking that stretched out endlessly, …etc. Not only are these locations devoid of all apparent plant life, just as the murderer claims, but there are also few people inhabiting them – our characters are pretty much the only ones around, isolated together in a barren and overwhelming landscape.
Ultimately, the film is about human connection. Stripped of most of their feelings, worn down to dullness by their respective existence, these people feel the need to be with others in spite of the risk that they pose to themselves. They are so desperate for even scraps of humanity that they will tolerate the worst in people just to NOT be alone any longer. They will even go to great lengths to seek this contact, as evidenced by Depardieu’s long stroll just to sit next to another man at the beginning of the film.
And yet all of them are self-serving, detached, possibly even amoral, people: the means by which they reach their goals are often clearly unethical -if not plainly criminal- to anyone remotely sensible, but they’ve all lost their perspective and don’t seem to realize that what they’re doing doesn’t fit in a traditional societal model. In ‘Buffet froid’, every action and decision is calculated strictly with regards to the personal impact it has on the individual, with no regard for others. In fact, as dispassionate as they are about their own respective lives, they are even more detached from others’.
Interestingly enough, before I put this together (rightly or wrongly ), the murderer’s speech stood out because I was amused by how he wouldn’t take any responsibility for his actions – that he blamed society instead. That spoke to me about the lack of ownership of a growing number of people (at least in North America – a society so litigious that it’s become a complete farce ). Was this meant to be satirical, or was it just a coincidental commentary in a larger context? I honestly don’t know, but it remains that both are valid in my mind.
Because, beyond its skin-deep strange behaviour, ‘Buffet froid’ has something to say. It may only speak in abstractions, in a non-sensical dream-like pastiche of sequences, but, consciously or not, Bertrand Blier has crossed that line between motion picture and cinema: it’s a film full of substance, both on a visceral level and an intellectual one and it forces its audience to reflect from start to finish, leaving them with more ponderables afterwards. A film that entertains, stimulates and provokes discussion is more than a mere collection of pictures at 24 frames per second.