Le baiser du barbu

Le baiser du barbuSummary: Benoit, an actor surviving on his barman wages, follows the advice of is his brother Frank – a former hockey player turned talent agent- and grows a beard to get a part in a dinner theatre play.

Benoit’s girlfriend Vicky, an ex dramaturge who now works as a librarian, finds it difficult to accept this latest development, as it will delay the couple’s plan to purchase a condo from their friends Caro and Vincent, who manage a hair and beauty salon.

But Benoit’s beard seems to have magical powers: he suddenly has a great deal of success, while Vicky develops a mysterious allergy to her boyfriend’s facial hair.

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Le baiser du barbu 7.0

eyelights: Louis José Houde. the core concept.
eyesores: the unappealing lead characters. the pseudo-“French” accent of some actors.

Yves Pelletier may not be a name that you’re familiar with, but he’s a comic genius. As a member of the legendary comic troupe Rock et Belles Oreilles (named after Huckleberry Hound, who is called Roquet belles oreilles in French), he wrote and performed some of their most memorable skits.

A performer with an impressive talent for language and caricature, he’s also starred in various Québec films and television shows. As well, he wrote the scripts to the cult Québécois series ‘Karmina’ and to the two movies that he’s directed thus far, ‘Les aimants’ and ‘Le baiser du barbu’.

I didn’t think much of him or Rock et Belles Oreilles until I saw Pelletier on the TV game show ‘Piment fort’. I was surprised by how funny he was on there and how good at improvisation he was (little did I know that, apparently, the show was rigged and all the guests’ answers were scripted).

He became a recurring player on the show and I would increasingly tune in to see him. After this, I paid more attention to him in Rock et Belles Oreilles and in his other performances, discovering that he is a powerhouse comedian – being particularly impressed with his mastery of accents and complex wordplays.

So, when he released his first film, ‘Les aimants’, I was especially curious to see what he’d put together. I was disappointed. I recall enjoying it, but not being that thrilled with it; it was good, not great. But it was his first directorial effort, so when I heard that he’d put also directed ‘Le baiser du barbu’, I was immediately eager to give him a second chance.

Sadly, this one was also good, but not great.

Personally, I like the premise: it’s based in the superstition that some men (particularly hockey players) have about cutting their beards when they’re on a winning streak of some sort.

In ‘Le baiser du barbu’ (loose translation: “Kiss of the bearded man”) is about Benoit, a wannabe actor who’s been stuck doing cheap dinner theatre productions to an uncaring public. After being told by his brother that, if he wants to play a bearded man he has to be a bearded man, he grows a beard and, in so doing, his confidence. Soon, he becomes a sensation, attracting media and industry attention.

His chief hurdle is that his girlfriend, Vicky, a former playwright, is no longer interested in the theatre and resents the fact that he will now forge ahead with his plans, thereby hindering her own dreams of buying a home together. Further to that, she begins to be dreadfully allergic to his beard, breaking out in all sorts of rashes and other irritating skin conditions, ultimately pushing him away. Benoit, now facing the success he’s always craved, is forced to choose between the love of his life and the gig of his dreams.

Beyond the core conceit, however, is one tragic flaw: the leads are somewhat unappealing, frequently being unsympathetic and/or irrational – thereby making us emotionally distant and incapable of empathizing with them. On the one hand, there’s Benoit, a goofy-looking guy who’s perhaps too much of a dreamer for his own good. On the other, there’s Vicky, a neurotic pessimist with a selfish bent. Both are far too impressionable for their own good: he believes that his beard brings him good fortune, and she’s a hypochondriac who thinks that the beard is hazardous to her health.

Between the two of them, there’s not much room for laughs.

I suspect that Pelletier’s intention is to create “real” people with “real” inadequacies, painting the portrait of a “real” relationship littered with all sorts of “real” issues. For this, I applaud him: there’s nothing worse than the saccharine crap that we often get in romantic dramas and comedies. The thing here, however, is that he forgot to make the characters redeemable: there has to be reasons for us to care about them, to want to relate to them, to smile when we think of them – the balance can’t be skewed in favour of the more irritating or miserable aspect of their personalities.

The only character that got any real laughs was Louis-José Houde, playing a TV commercial director who is trying to break into cinema. He’s a bit of a caricature, but his eager puppy-dog demeanour and his penchant for mixing up everyday French with English business parlance was a beacon in an otherwise dimly lit picture. It’s quite possible that, if the film had a funnier cast of characters, Houde wouldn’t have seemed as interesting, but my partner and I relished pretty much each of his scenes. In fact, I’ve never been much of a fan of Houde’s, but this actually made me want to give him another chance.

‘Le baiser du barbu’ could have been a very funny film if the comedy had been taken up a notch, but I suspect that Pelletier is trying to evoke more realistic, “everyday” moments and sentiments in his work than when he was with Rock et Belles Oreilles. The problem is that, in his current mode, he tends to create a slightly drab environment instead of a cheerful, light one. That’s fine when one is writing drama, but he injects enough quirks into his work to suggest that it should be humourous – which leaves one with the impression that ‘Le baiser du barbu’ is unsure of what it’s trying to be.

Of course, having said that, this seems kind of fitting given that the characters are also unsure of what they want and where they’re headed. It’s just too bad that this ambiguity leaves me somewhat ambivalent about them… and the picture. I wish I could say that ‘Le baiser du barbu’ will eventually grow on me, but I highly doubt it.

Date of viewing: February 9, 2013

2 responses to “Le baiser du barbu

  1. Pingback: Valentin | thecriticaleye·

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