An early moment in Slack Bay, the latest from French provocateur Bruno Dumont, finds a plump police inspector in a black uniform rolling down a hill of white sand. It's the kind of image that wouldn't have been out of place in a silent short, and it sets the stage for Dumont's general mood of absurdism. The plot, such as it is, concerns a wealthy early-20th-century family, the Van Peteghems, who go to visit their summer home only to discover that the police are investigating a series of disappearances in the area. The film is highly self-aware, and Juliette Binoche's performance as Aude Van Peteghem is delightfully redolent of the snooty dames so memorably captured by Margaret Dumont.
Binoche speaks in a pinched upper-crust accent and wears garish hats. She consistently overreacts, even swooning at one point. Aude and her ilk's foils are the local fishing family, the Bruforts. The rich, unsurprisingly, make their luxurious vacation destination within spitting distance of the poor. The Brufort children, in their impoverishment, all wear matching drab sweaters, and in case you somehow missed how different they were from the Van Peteghems, they also happen to eat people.
At all times, the film seems like it could go in any number of directions: It could be horror, broad comedy or a dramatic treatise on class relations, and ends up being a little of each. The best moments recall the surreal social satires of Luis Buñuel. But while it would be unfair to expect Slack Bay to live up to Buñuel's mastery, too much of this picaresque is meandering and frustrating.
Bruno DumontJuliette Binoche, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Fabrice LuchiniBruno DumontKino Lorber