Wednesday 23 August 2017

Movies: Mammuth **

(CLUB, IFI)

Paul Whitington

Gerard Depardieu looks surprisingly at home carting around dead pigs and butchering their carcasses. In Mammuth, a strange, eccentric and problematic film from Gustave Kervern and Benoit Delepine, that's his character's job, but when Serge Pilardosse is forced to retire his modest, carefully ordered existence begins to fall to pieces.

He reacts to his sudden excess of free time badly, and within days is a bag of nervous energy. He paces up and down and stands at the window counting how many cars pass by, and his tough-talking but deeply devoted wife Catherine (Yolande Moreau) grows more and more concerned about him. He starts trying to fix things around the house but is not much of a handyman, and his attempts to do the weekly shop end in disaster.

"First day of retirement, and it's chaos," is his wife's blunt but entirely accurate assessment. He needs a hobby, and fast.

When he's told that he needs proof of previous employment in order to get a full state pension, he at last finds a sense of purpose. He blows the dust off his old Munch Mammuth motorbike and sets off to visit all his old places of work, and as he travels he reminisces on his life and loves. Chief among these is Cecile, his first girlfriend (Isabelle Adjani), and as his voyage continues a tragedy emerges that his haunted him since his 20s.

Along the way, he also visits the house of his estranged mother, and forms a strange connection with a niece he hasn't seen in years.

Pilardosse is a man all at sea, who battles with technology and is ill at ease in the modern world. In ways, he's a pathetic figure, the original superannuated man, but he has a certain redoubtable quality as well, and you sense that if he sticks to his guns, he'll get there in the end.

There's a farcical element to Pilardosse's grand adventure: at his retirement do all his co-workers munch crisps while the boss mollifies him with compliments; and when he visits a cemetery where he used to work, a gravedigger begins dancing, singing and playing the harmonica.

At times grandly dramatic, at others absurd to downright grotesque, Mammuth in the end is a strange, uncomfortable hybrid of a film that ultimately fails to find its voice. Needless to say, though, Depardieu never disappoints: his Serge is like a wounded bear limping off to find a place to die, and Moreau, whom you may remember from Seraphine, is wonderful as his equally outmoded wife.

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