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Whatever

Listless, cynical, socially timid, touched by self-pity, and so passive and prey to confusion that the very idea of buying a new bed becomes impossibly problematic, a computer systems engineer (Philippe Harel) has been accelerating
on the downward slope ever since his girl finished with him two years ago. He’s lucid enough to know hes suffering – or has suffered – some sort of breakdown, but still finds it increasingly difficult just to survive. The camaraderie offered by a likewise lonely but considerably less taciturn colleague, Tisserand (Jose Garcia), as they tour the provinces training unwelcoming strangers, offers little respite. Meanwhile, Our Hero’s private philosophy, juggling notions of injustice and inequality in the economic and sexual arenas, gets more garbled as he slides further off the rails.

A few years ago, director Philippe Harel’s La Femme Defendue deservedly garnered praise on the festival circuit for its provocative but rigorous use of subjective camera and for its tough take on sexual politics and oppressive masculine insecurity. His latest film, co-adapted with Michel Houellebecq from the latter’s best-selling first novel, may be formally less intriguing, but it’s certainly fascinating as a further foray into the darker byways of the male psyche. Sometimes, for sure, the protagonist’s miserabilism verges (intentionally or otherwise) on black comedy, and until Tisserand turns up, the secondary characters tend towards caricature. But the relationship between the two workmates is beautifully handled, the creation and control of atmosphere often expertly managed (both a stay in hospital and a desperate Christmas Eve are scarily effective), and the closing moments are both unexpected and affecting.

France, 1999.
English subtitles.
Colour.
Dolby digital stereo.
120 min.

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