‘Gaz de France’: Cannes Review

Writer-director Benoit Forgeard premieres his feature debut in the Cannes ACID sidebar

A low budget Gallic whatchamacallit that doesn’t quite merit feature-length status, Gaz de France represents a rather underwhelming debut from writer-director Benoit Forgeard – whose offbeat collection of shorts, Reussir sa vie, was released theatrically in 2011. Ostensibly about a fictional French president named “Bird” and the team of advisors brought in to salvage his fledging career, the film plays out like a shaky assembly of green-screen sketches combining satire and surrealism in only partially amusing ways. A premiere at the Cannes ACID sidebar should give Gaz some gas on the fest circuit, followed by minor theatrical play at home.

The opening sequence is by far the film’s strongest: During a nationally televised talk show, we see the absurdly incompetent Bird (singer Philippe Katherine) – who was recently elected for having the best campaign song – facing an audience of unhappy constituents. Despite the advice of his top strategist, Michel (Olivier Rabourdin from the Taken series), Bird flubs his chance to better his standings in the polls, leaving it to his political puppetmaster to find a way out of the quagmire.

The Bottom Line

Eclectic French experimental feature is not quite the gas it should be

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With the help of his eager assistant (Alka Balbir), Michel brings in several wacky Frenchies to brainstorm ways in which Bird can remake his image. Secluded in the basement of the Elysee Palace, the group comes up with various hairbrained schemes, while the script (by Forgeard and Emmanuel Lautreamont) loses wind in a series of semi-comic sequences where the laughs give way to lots of over-the-top weirdness.

There are a few clever nods here to the farce that French politics have become in recent years, with leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy relying more on communications strategies than political convictions in their relentless pursuit of votes. And the science-fiction setting, consisting of strange relics from past presidential terms and a conference room straight out of Dr. Strangelove, adds to the surreal atmosphere.

But Forgeard can’t really build a narrative that captivates for the entire running time, and the movie starts turning in circles much the way the characters themselves do. He also discards the film’s major asset by getting rid of Bird throughout the midsection, depriving viewers of the terrifically deadpan Katherine (Gainsbourg), who offers up one of the funnier moments when improvising a speech from a broken teleprompter.

Other performances can be cartoonish at times, albeit in a low-fi mumblecore kind of way, with Forgeard himself playing an android consultant whose internal memory is forever on the fritz. Cinematography by Thomas Favel makes colorful use of the confined settings and CG backdrops, while an electro soundtrack recalls the score in Yann Gonzalez’ 2013 Cannes entry You and the Night – another French experiment in unorthodox feature filmmaking, although one with a more convincing outcome.

Production companies: Ecce Films
Cast: Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Katerine, Alka Balbir, Philippe Laudenbach, Anne Steffens
Director: Benoit Forgeard
Screenwriters: Benoit Forgeard, Emmanuel Lautreamont
Producer: Emmanuel Chaumet
Director of photography: Thomas Favel
Editors: Benoit Forgeard, Nicolas Boucher
Casting director: Youna De Peretti
International sales: Ecce Films

No rating, 86 minutes