Buffet Froid (France, 1979):

An abstract Gallic jest, like M. Hulot's stiff-legged stroll through modernist architecture, only here it's murder chatted about amiably over wine, photographed by a coolly dollying camera. Gerard Depardieu is first seen underground, though in Bertrand Blier's jaundiced netherworld even the depths have turned sterile -- gleaming surfaces, a subway platform empty but for the bemused Depardieu and Michel Serrault, a passenger growing uneasy. "People don't talk anymore," Depardieu declares, then pulls out a stiletto knife and announces their friendship; the weapon disappears, only to moments later materialize inexplicably in Serrault's belly. The protagonist ambles home, tries to explain the mystery to his wife, who impatiently throws the bloody switchblade into the dishwasher. Bernard Blier is his new neighbor, a police inspector hero toeing a breakdown, scaredy-cat serial killer Jean Carmet joins them for dinner, having just offed Depardieu's missus. And so forth into Ionesco-Beckett territory. The film is both the fullest expression of Blier's social disgust, and his flippest work: death and rape fill the cavernous buildings, though all human response has been leeched off visceral spontaneity by the director's deadpan elegance. Geneviève Page dons mourning black when the trio comes to visit her and Carole Bouquet later Rolls-Royces through, though Blier's world is far closer to A Clockwork Orange than to Buñuel -- the inspector's torture by string quintet clinches the connection (throwing in a Françoise Sagan dig in the process), Kubrick himself would later borrow the elevator gag for The Shining. Strangling a woman to Carmet is "like hearing a bird making a little sound," but when the stooges ditch urban skyscrapers for open-air country, the bucolic idyll only brings out grumbling and paranoia, and one by one they drop like flies. One character puts a hit contract on himself, and screams for help when the startled killers can't do the job; Blier's own cri de couer is scabrous vaudeville, pungent in its callousness yet illuminating nothing so much as the old technique of the comedy of violence in long shot. With Jean Benguigui, Denise Gence, Marco Perrin, Jean Rougerie, and Bernard Crombey.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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