With a successful track record in short film already well-establshed (Les Lézards, Double Mixte), Vincent Mariette has chosen to direct a low-key, dramatic comedy for his first venture into full length features. Tristesse Club is not without flaws, but its inspired casting, tight dialogue and continual ability to surprise lifts the film out of the ordinary onto a quasi-surreal level.
After receiving news their father is dead, Léon (Laurent Lafitte of the Comédie Française) and Bruno (Vincent Macaigne) travel to his funeral where they meet a mysterious young woman (Ludivine Sagnier) who announces she is their half-sister Chloé. After dropping this bombshell, she then confesses their father is not dead but missing and enlists their help in trying to track him down. As the three take to the road in a battered old Porsche, it soon becomes clear there is more a stake emotionally for each of them than simply finding a missing person.
Arguably, Tristesse Club covers well-travelled ground – siblings meeting at a funeral, reliving childhood memories, both good and bad. But Mariette adds his own vision to the mix rendering the movie sad, funny, touching and, at times, genuinely weird. The scenes with Noemie Lvovsky as an ex-mistress with an odd taste in erotic paintings are some of the funniest in the film. As the characters bond in this unashamedly trans-atlantic style Buddy movie, Mariette reveals the true nature of each one lying just below the surface.
Léon is a useless husband and father, but surprisingly resourceful when things get tough. Bruno comes across as creepy and needy when in reality he is lost and lonely, while Chloé gradually learns to let down her guard and trust the two strangers.
None of this would work without the obvious chemistry between the three lead actors. Mariette has revealed they worked together on improvisations before the script was finalised and this shows in the easy-flowing relationship that quickly develops between the characters. Most of the action takes place in an isolated hotel on the edge of lake with majestic snow-capped mountains in distance. And the stillness of the stage-like setting cleverly intensifies the action on the screen.
The predictable outcome is disappointing, but overall Tristesse Club is an uplifting look at failure and the possibility of redemption.