New Yorker Films | Release Date: January 29, 2003
Universal acclaim based on 7 Ratings
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DanielB.Feb 23, 2003
[***Potential Spoilers***] In Chaos, French writer/director Coline Serreau dishes out, with mixed results, a hyper-kinetic mashing together of moderately dysfunctional family sitcom and would-be serious melodrama by way of feminist revenge[***Potential Spoilers***] In Chaos, French writer/director Coline Serreau dishes out, with mixed results, a hyper-kinetic mashing together of moderately dysfunctional family sitcom and would-be serious melodrama by way of feminist revenge fantasy. Thrown into the mix are elements of a talk-to-and-massage-the-European-woman-in-a-coma drama, a Muslim-family-values-suck exposé, and an abused super-hooker dupes her pimps and escapes with the loot adventure flick. The common thread weaved through these disparate elements is the film’s hell-bent drive to show that men are – generally speaking but without exception – easily manipulated, predictable, arrogant, insensitive, cruel, greedy, lazy, philandering and blustering cads (a partial list only) who are rotten to their mothers and all deserve to rot in hell, or at least alone, or worse, together. Women, on the other hand, and also without exception, are caring, smart and beautiful souls who can find true solace amongst only each other and, when banding together, can defeat the forces of vile manhood that coalesce about them in an infernal and ceaseless effort to belittle and dehumanize them. We first are introduced to neglected, put upon housewife Hélène (Catherine Frot) and her peevish husband Paul (Vincent Lindon), a loveless, frazzled bourgeois pair who are always dressing in a terrible rush and never have much time to finish their morning tea. En route to a dinner party they happen upon bloodied hooker Noémie (Rachida Brakni), fleeing from a gang of pimps who smash her face into Paul’s windshield. Noémie yells for help. Paul locks the doors. Noémie is further accosted in the street whilst Paul zips toot sweet to a carwash, all the while complaining that the flesh and blood on the windshield is sticky. Hélène, somewhat less concerned about the sticky flesh, worries about the girl. Paul, it turns out, wants nothing less than to be left in peace and not be bothered by silly things like police investigations and comatose whores. Hélène cannot so blithely ignore the goings on and secretly tracks Noémie down, stays with her day and night as she gradually eases out of a coma, and gets quickly drawn into Noémie’s web of gangster pimps and dead financiers. Then there is Fabrice (Aurélien Wiik), the couple’s skirt chasing son, his fiancée Blanchet (Jean-Marc Stehlé), and his girlfriend Nicole (Léa Drucker). Blanchet and Nicole, at first jealous rivals, end up befriending each other and making sandwiches. But only after Blanchet wrecks Fabrice’s apartment by ketchuping his sofa and assaulting his spaghetti with reckless abandon. Eventually all three move in to Paul and Hélène’s pad where they find Paul alone, on the verge of divorce with Hélène, and incapable of operating the washing machine (though he is curiously adept at using the toaster). So far so good. Every scene in this film is designed for maximal male bashing, and when director Serreau plays it purely for laughs, she gets them. Her men – particularly Lindon, with an ashen, mordant face perfectly suited to the many callous quips the director has written for him – are game for playing the fools. The sheer joy Serreau seems to get from making them bounce and trot like idiots about the screen is infectious. But let us not ignore Noémie the super-hooker! Noémie is not truly Noémie, she is really Malika, a Frenchwoman of Algerian descent with a past so ludicrously rife with textbook abuses and misery, and recounted with such verve by Serreau, that it is almost comic. Malika, as a young Muslim girl (the film is at pains to point out her family’s religion) was to be sold by her father to an Algerian man, for 20,000 francs. Malika ran away, only to be ensnared by Touki (Ivan Franek), a pimp who stole her off to the countryside where she was raped 10 times a day and forced to take heroine. She thus made a graceless entrance into the life of a street hooker, during which time she also learned to effortlessly play the stock market. I am not making this up. Her pimps, delighted with her financial acumen, give her a portfolio to manage, and elevate her from street walker to high class escort. She manipulates and schemes and thoroughly outsmarts her vile and oafish captors, and ends up with Hélène as accomplice on the last leg of her whirlwind tour as social avenger. Here the film sadly falls flat on its face. At every point Serreau attempts sobriety or shock she fails. Noémie is as stoic and noble as Paul and Fabrice (not to mention Touki and his fellow goons) are flawed, and just as the men are caricatures, Noémie’s strength in the face of adversity is farcical. What’s more, Serreau so assiduously crams the ultimate laundry list of molestations into Noémie's past that the film flits through each one without pause, giving them all the depth of a crêpe. She then undermines her own histrionics by invariably cutting back to some slapsticky sequence, such as when Hélène tiptoes – Loony Toons style – up behind Touki and whacks him on the head with a 2x8. It doesn’t help that Brakni imbues her character with all the intensity of a wide eyed feral monkey, and that the film itself, shot on video and apparently without tripod technology, looks at times like an old episode of Candid Camera. And yet, you’ve got to give Serreau praise for the attempt. She aims for a bizarre, nearly impossible fusion, and while she ends up – if a film can be diagnosed with disease – with a severe case of multiple personality disorder, she so tirelessly works to tie up all the pieces, twisting and bending her many plots with gleeful and loopy machinations, that you cannot help but laugh and enjoy her ever more wicked assaults on men. Expand
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