Synopsis: When her teen-aged son (Stephane Bierry) runs away and the police are noncommittal, a woman (Anne Duperey) convinces two old flames — a crusading journalist (Gerard Depardieu) and a hypochondriac (Pierre Richard) — that each is the father of her son in order to spur someone into action. Both eventually decide to search for the boy, meet up, and tell each other their stories without realizing they are looking for the same kid.
Les Compères 8.0
‘Les Compères’ is the second of three collaborations between Gérard Depardieu, Pierre Richard and writer-director Francis Veber (following ‘La Chèvre’, in 1981 and prior to 1986’s `Les Fugitifs’). I’d heard about it many times over the years, but had basically lost sight of it, only getting around to watching it thanks to a DVD boxed set that I recently got and that include these last two films. Although I may need to re-watch ‘La Chèvre’ (which I’ve had for years) to get a more accurate perspective, my current impression is that ‘Les Compères’ may very well be the best of these rather enjoyable Depardieu/Richard/Veber films.
What makes this film so excellent is that each of the sequences could actually happen; none of it feels impossible, even though it may border on the improbable at times. Some sequences flirt with the extremes of human incompetence and villainy, but they are entirely credible and are quite tame in comparison with the actual exploits of the human race (or some of it, at least ). Thus, the humour comes from the absurdity of certain situations, the irony of moments, the feebleness of the human condition, and not necessarily in one-liners, pratfalls or exuberant behaviour.
The strength of this script is that it converges drama and comedy in a perfect combination. The story feels very real throughout, with no extravagant sequences or overblown set-pieces along the way. All that takes place in this film could and likely would take place as such in real life. The humour is layered in through little moments, and they are very spare – unlike screwball-type comedies which are zing-zing-zing. The pace is just right, especially since the humour is perfectly suited to the picture; one doesn’t feel deprived at all.
Even the set up with the parents trying to find their son was done in just the right way: the mother comes off as calculating, but not entirely heartless – perhaps extremely desperate, enough so to justify her actions to herself, but that’s about it. Somehow, she doesn’t come off as cruel or stupid. This is in contrast with the American version, ‘Fathers’ Day’, which gave the impression that she was a total @$$hole. Of course, having said that, in that version almost all of the characters came off as being total losers (Billy Crystal being the only exception – and even he was hardly shining). In ‘Les Compères’, everyone graces the screen in their own way.
Without a doubt, the Depardieu/Richard comedy duo was a remarkable one. After seeing the underwhelming remake last year, I’ve been afforded a little perspective on what makes successful comedy teams (you’d think that a Robin Williams and Billy Crystal combo would be comedy gold but, sadly, it wasn’t ). Depardieu’s straight man to Richard’s goofy guy works incredibly well as a pair. Of course, this is due to the actors’ respective skill: Depardieu being able to inject sensitivity to his Alpha male, and Richard being able to wrap up his neurotic man in just the right amount of pathos and genuineness.
Depardieu is quite remarkable in this one. His flair for comedy and for action is spotlighted in one sequence where he confronts a horde of teenage hoodlums. In his giving and receiving of headbutts he demonstrates the right amount of physicality to appear threatening, but also shows a soft side in his eyes and cheeks. I was particularly impressed when took a hit and dropped to the floor with exactly the correct imbalance and lack of body control that such incapacitation would bring on. He didn’t even need a stuntman for this. Impressive.
I was very pleasantly surprised by ‘Les Compères’. Given that I loathed ‘Fathers’ Day’ so much, I approached its precursor with some caution, if not trepidation. I needn’t have been concerned: ‘Les Compères’ is not only a very good comedy, it’s also a terrific film that one can watch with the whole family – assuming that its members understand French or can read subtitles, that is. But, this detail aside, I can’t fathom anything more delightful than to watch this light road movie with dad on this quiet Sunday afternoon; if it doesn’t put smiles on everyone’s face on Fathers’ Day, then nothing will.