The Larrieu brothers have a reputation for directing films with bizarre, quixotic storylines and 21 Nuits avec Pattie fits the bill perfectly. It takes a rare talent to tackle sexual taboos and produce a clever, amusing film which deftly avoids causing offense. And the Larrieu brothers are just the men for the job. Against the stunning backdrop of southern France at the tale-end of summer, what kicks-off as a search for a missing body morphs into one woman’s voyage of self-discovery. There are dead bodiies, ghosts, even a necrophiliac yet there’s nothing morbid or macabre about Caroline’s (Isabelle Carré) experience of life in an isolated rural community home to a collection of eccentric characters. Even if the film runs out of steam towards the end, this is the Larrieu brothers at the top of their game. With 21 Nuits avec Pattie they have produced a wonderful, startlingly sexually frank, intriguing gem of a film.
Caroline arrives in the Languedoc region of France to organise the funeral of her estranged mother Isabelle (French choreographer Mathilde Monnier). She is met by Isabelle’s housekeeper Pattie ( Karin Viard) who introduces her to the other inhabitants of the village – Jean-Marc (Philippe Rebbot), the priapic Andre (Denis Lavant), local gendarme Pierre (Laurent Poitreneau) and Pattie’s own flirtatious young son Kamil (Jules Ritmanic). Before the funeral takes place, Isabelle’s body disappears. The presence of a body-snatcher in the immediate vicinity doesn’t unduly trouble Pattie and her friends who continue to eat, drink and make merry. The mystery over the missing body deepens when the dignified Jean (André Dussollier) turns up claiming to be one of Isabelle’s old friends. Despite the unfortunate sequence of events, Caroline warms to this strange community and her perspective on life begins to change.
There’s a definte whiff of magical realism in the air from the fairy-tale forest full of strange phallic mushrooms to Isabelle’s ghost who dances alone on a long table in the moonlight. But it’s Pattie and her graphic, sexually explicit monologues who casts the real spell. After her turn as the libidinous Ariane in Julie Delpy’s Lolo, Viard again plays a sexually liberated modern woman. She is a terrific comic actress making Pattie the kind of free spirit, unburdened by social convention that makes for wonderful viewing.
Although in her mid-forties, Carré exudes a childlike innocence that has served her well in recent films such as Les Chaises Musicales and the box-office success Ange & Gabriel opposite ageing hearthrob Patrick Bruel. It’s used to good effect again here where Caroline provides an effective counterbalance to the earthy, libertine Pattie. And if you’re going to raise the subject of necrophilia who better to discuss it with than the refined, elegant Dussolier who makes even the most unpalatable subjects seem lyrical and poetic.
After the disappointing L’Amour est un Crime Parfait, it’s a relief to see Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu return to form.