Adieu Berthe: L’Enterrement de Mémé

Wannabe Screwball Comedy Overplays Its Hand

June 27, 2012By Nick HammondFilm
Paris-Update adieu-berthe
Armand (Denis Polyadès) and Alix (Valérie Lemercier) try some coffins on for size. @ Anne-Françoise Brillot – Why Not Productions.

Judging from the gales of laughter in the cinema and the number of people who left before the end of Adieu Berthe: L’Enterrement de Mémé (Granny’s Funeral) on the evening I saw it, you are going to either love or hate the new movie directed by Bruno Podalydès (written with and starring his brother Denis). Shown out of competition at Cannes, the film has been largely acclaimed by French critics, with at least one bemoaning the fact that it was not entered in the main competition.

Armand (played by Denis Polyadès), who works in a pharmacy with his wife (Isabelle Candelier), finds himself in a state of perpetual indecision, unable to leave his wife or to run away with his mistress (Valérie Lemercier). When his grandmother, Berthe, dies, he finds himself torn between further choices: whether to bury or cremate her and which funeral director to choose. During a visit to his late grandmother’s retirement home, he reconstructs her life and discovers (through the over-laborious and strikingly uncinematic reading out of rather too many letters) how her great love was a magician called Max Kiff. And, as it happens, Armand is himself an amateur magician.

Although this movie has a number of mildly amusing episodes (such as the high-tech funeral home, called Définitif, in which not all the gizmos work on cue, or the rival funeral home that, as its name, Obsécool, suggests, is rather more laid-back in approach), the whole piece smacks of a wannabe screwball comedy trying desperately to be as offbeat and quirky as possible. The frequent wordplay was at times comic but often overplayed: for example, the pun involving the English word “twilight” and the French “toilettes,” was repeated too many times, undermining what was not a very funny gag in the first place. And, while the performance of Bruno Polyadès, who plays the cool funeral director, is nicely understated, I found Denis’s acting mannered and forced. With every gesture or expression, he seemed to be sending out glaring signals that this was the work of a great comic actor, and I simply didn’t buy it.

The whole movie is punctuated by cameos from established stars: Pierre Arditi seems to have sent in his performance as Armand’s father on a postcard, such was its complete lack of engagement; and Noémie Lvovsky is given a ludicrously underwritten role as a weeping woman at the cemetery. As Adieu Berthe meandered to a predictably mawkish conclusion, one saving grace was the director’s choice to play the complete back catalog of the Swingle Singers as a soundtrack.


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