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CANNES 2009 Directors’ Fortnight

Documentary study of inanity in Land of Madness


Documentary study of inanity in Land of Madness

The audience at this morning’s screening of Land of Madness [+see also:
film profile
, by filmmaker-critic Luc Moullet, making his third appearance in the Cannes Directors' Fortnight, certainly didn’t expect to roar so much with laughter. The documentary, heralded as a study of mental disorders in Moullet’s native Southern Alps region, totally evades the seriousness that its synopsis suggests, thanks to the narration by a director who manages to raise laughs from completely woeful stories.

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Moullet starts by introducing himself as an original loner and film enthusiast, son of a father who suffers from atavistic paranoia (and successive hero-worship of Stalin, Hitler, Mitterrand and Mao). The director’s theory is that his region, more specifically what he humorously refers to as "the pentagram of madness" (an area bordered by five small villages, whose epicentre is Digne), is particularly conducive to mental alienation. He claims this is caused by several afflictions (including consanguinity, thyroid-related illnesses, effects of Chernobyl, isolation and rural depression) and backs up his premise by quoting numerous appalling news stories (including immolations by fire and other familial homicides, with possible successive suicide...) recounted by locals who are surprisingly amused and, indeed, amusing.

And so, commenting on the story of a schizophrenic butcher guilty of having dismembered his daughter and disposed of her body parts over several bus journeys, the local tobacconist assures us: "I don’t at all like what he did". Another local resident, whose confused verbosity makes her one of the viewers’ favourite recurrent characters, goes into raptures, with disarming candour, over the inventiveness of suicide victims ("That’s not bad, I’d never have thought of that idea!"). There is also the hilarious case of the man who, suspecting his one-year-old nephew of bothering his brother, sorts him out by pouring vitriol into his baby bottle.

Presented with these numerous tragedies, we readily accept Moullet’s theory and the sophisticated links of cause and effect that he establishes thanks to the irrationality of irrationality – moreover, he clouds the issue further by stating that the common denominator of these crimes is their absence of motive (to which a strange old lady replies that people don’t give a damn about the reasons someone might have had for killing them because they’re dead! Obviously!). But just as the director has us convinced, he suggests, in a farcical final scene, that we should reinterpret the film in the light of his own madness. Now we know: in the land of inanity, we must beware of oddballs.

(Translated from French)

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