Slack Bay 🤔 Movie Review

Written by Thelonia

This weekend, French people voted in the presidential primaries, something which has resulted in a second round composed of a centrist who no one feels very strongly about versus a nationalist whose existence terrifies me (the more things change the more things stay the same). With that in mind, let's talk about a balls to the wall crazy French movie about class differences, cannibalism, and random levitating people.

This movie is Slack Bay (Ma Loute in the original French). Set in the North of France in the summer of 1910, the film centers around two families: the first, a family of mussel-gatherers (slash ferrymen, slash cannibals - more on both later), the second, a family of bourgeois dandies who family relations are all much too intertwined (the adults are two sets of siblings, who are cousins to each other and have managed to intermarry and interbreed to such an extent that you wind up thinking it's a miracle that any of them have the correct amount of limbs). There is also a bumbling set of detectives wandering around the Bay, investigating (sort of) the disappearances of tourists in the area.

The Van Peteghems (center) and the Buforts (upper left).
Let's get this out of the way. The movie is both slow (sometimes abysmally so) and completely batshit. The tone is similarly confused and even now I don't really know how to describe it without just saying a few things that happen in it, because that's sort of all there is. There is no grand plot here - the investigation that you think would take up the most time in the narrative gets dropped after being forgotten for a large chunk of the film entirely. The closest thing to a plot we have going is in the relationship between the Genderqueer child of the (bourgeois) Van Peteghem family, Billie, and  that of the (not) Brufort family, named 'Ma Loute' (which I am told is an 'affectionate nickname for a female partner' and not generally the kind of name you'd associate with a mussel-gathering cannibal, but more on that later).

The two engage in a romance that seems to lean more towards the "well, you're here and not eighty" side of things, but it is composed mostly of gazing into each others eyes, not talking, and Ma Loute giving Billie lifts across the estuary (quite literally in his arms across the water - he and his Father do this as a side business). It's sort of cute until you occasionally remember - not really through the movie's prodding since it also seems to forget once the romance gets underway - that Ma Loute has killed and eaten (!) about four people so far (all in an extremely tight time span, which really just seems wasteful but hey, what do I know).

Who wouldn't fall in love with that face?
The whole thing eventually falls apart when, after a hand wanders on one of the romantic "carry me over this body of water in absolute silence" scenes, and Ma Loute discovers that Billie is not, as they told Ma Loute earlier "A Girl who dresses up as a Boy." This sends Ma Loute into an absolute rage (though once again in chilling silence), and he tosses Billie into the water and proceeds to beat them. While the movie has, by this point, shown you many people getting murdered, some wild classism, and a severed foot being waved at the camera, this is still very surprising and upsetting. Ma Loute then drags Billie up to his house, collecting up some of Billie's relatives on the way, and setting them all up for literal slaughter.

But they had so much not talking in common!
This is really the main plot contrivance that happens in the movie, but it only shows up two thirds of the way through. The overwhelming majority of the movie is concerned with these scenic pastiches of bourgeois living which, while amusing in their own way, do nothing to advance any sort of plot. With such a strong start (what with the relatively quick inclusion of the cannibalism/dead people humor), it's no surprise that once the movie moves on to the plot-less middle there is little to nothing there.

That is not to say there is nothing to admire about the movie - the cinematography and costumes are absolutely beautiful, and do a great favor to the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in which it was filmed. The acting is also excellent, and had the characters been given something more to do than they were here, this film might be well regarded as a masterpiece of dark comedy.

The problem with the movie, well, the most prominent one at least, is that it doesn't know what it wants to be. I'd say it would work better as a short movie because there is really not all that much there - each scene just sort of happens with little to no movement forward in the plot (is there one?). While the plot seems centered around Billie and Ma Loute, once any hope of their romance is squashed, there's nothing left but the cannibalism, which at that point hasn't been relevant to the plot in about an hour. And once Billie and their family members are rescued from being eaten by the underclass, the movie just stops.

Slack Bay is crazy, but it only gets interesting in bursts. Watch it for the astonishing visuals or if you're curious about Northern French accents, but don't invest the time if you're looking for a plot or any consistent fun.

You can catch Slack Bay at the Lincoln Center theatre with English subtitles.

No comments:

Post a Comment