Gérard Depardieu wears his corpulence as a heavy soul, a man greased and bled by years of work in the local abattoir. Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern’s blue-black comedy (the humour is more an aching bruise) opens with the pork-factory boss giving a speech at Serge’s (Depardieu) retirement party. ‘Our country owes the great quality of our cured meats to you,’ he says blandly, as Serge’s colleagues look on, munching crisps. Serge is given a jigsaw as a parting gift and returns home to his wife (Yolande Moreau).
The jigsaw fails to entertain. After a fiery conversation with the man who slices hams at the deli counter in the local supermarket and a frustrating trolley incident in the car park, Serge learns he needs crucial paperwork from previous employers before he can start retirement. And so he is forced to renovate his motorbike and take to the road to obtain the documents. Embracing landscapes wide and open, Serge is a solid vision, his ill-kept hair flying behind him, wild and free.
Sometimes meek, sometimes impatient, Serge is a mammoth not used to asking for what he wants. He makes contact with the bosses of previous dead-end jobs, some willing to help him, some not.
Uncomfortable comic gristle binds Delépine and de Kervern’s direction. There’s a scene where Serge connects with an old male friend and the two attempt to pleasure each other: their huge bellies are two domes cramped on a double bed. Likewise, there is an odd, indefinable friendship with his kooky niece.
Serge is a character normally shunned. He is limited and unsympathetic, not a man we would choose as a friend. Yet we want to know him more. Of course, this is partly because he is played by Depardieu. We don’t feel pity for Serge (this film is too smart for that); instead we find him curious. He is a man whose travels result in no life-changing epiphany, but self-acceptance.
Fascinating, yet unlovable is indeed Serge. But he can love. He did love, once, when he was young. She died in a motorbike accident soon after they met. Her presence is a ghost-like figure with beautiful and bloodied face, played by the radiant Isabelle Adjani. She is a comfort, appearing from time to time during Serge’s road-trip, sitting beside him: a more familiar presence than the dead pig meat that used to touch his skin. A reminder, too, as with all true loves, that he is human and valued.
Directors: Benoît Delépine and Gustave de Kervern (2010)