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CLOSET, THE (PLACARD, LE) (director/writer: Francis Veber; screenwriter: ; cinematographer: Luciano Tovoli; editor: Georges Klotz; music: Vladimir Cosma; cast: Daniel Auteuil (François Pignon), Gérard Depardieu (Félix Santini), Thierry Lhermitte (Guillaume, PR man), Michèle Laroque (Mademoiselle Bertrand), Michel Aumont (Jean-Pierre Belone), Jean Rochefort (Kopel, CEO), Stanislas Crevillén (Franck), Alexandra Vandernoot (Christine), Armelle Deutsch (Ariane), Michèle Garcia (Agnes Santini), Luq Hamet (Moreau); Runtime: 84; Miramax Films; 2001-France)
“A harmless, genial sitcom comedy that has little bite in its political and sexual agenda…”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A harmless, genial sitcom comedy that has little bite in its political and sexual agenda, though it had opportunities to lash out it never followed through. Francis Veber’s (“TheDinner Game”) social comedy aims to be a crowd pleaser and makes little asides about PC agendas that are supposed to be satires on hypocrisy in the office place, but the jokes provide no belly laughs and are more annoying and stale than on the mark.

François Pignon (Daniel Auteuil) is a dullard. He works as an accountant in a condom plant. When unnoticed in the men’s room learns from overhearing a conversation between the crude personnel director Félix Santini (Gérard Depardieu) and the cameraman who just took the company photo, that he’s about to be fired. This is after 20 years of doing his job without any complaints.

The divorced accountant is still miserable because his sourpuss wife Christine, the one he still madly loves, dumped him two years ago and refuses to answer his calls — and his 17-year-old son Frank also ignores him because he thinks his dad is a square. When François returns home to his empty apartment, he’s depressed because he feels he has nothing to live for and thinks about jumping off the balcony. But his new next-door neighbor, Jean-Pierre Belone (Michel Aumont), reads his mind and talks him out of it. It turns out the older man is retired from his post as an industrial psychologist, and offers him a controversial solution to keep his job. Francois is to pretend that he’s gay and is coming out of the closet. Belone doctors a photo by computer and has it appear that Pignon is with a younger gay lover bare-assed and dressed in lederhosen. Belone, who sympathizes with his neighbor’s plight, had once been fired because he was gay and therefore relishes getting even with the same type of bosses who would now be afraid to fire someone just because they’re gay. He anonymously mails the doctored photo to his conservative friend’s office and when it’s discovered that Pignon is gay, the crafty but weasel-like boss (Jean Rochefort) decides he can’t fire him because most of his customers are gay and they would protest. In fact, Pignon is now a top-asset to the company because he can be used as an icon to bring more business to the company and is treated with more respect by the hierarchy. Also, most of the other workers see him in a different light now as he becomes an object of their curiosity. They also find him to be more tolerable. Though two of the more low level workers wear masks when they jump him in his garage and give him a beating for being openly gay.

The upshot of Pignon’s deception is that even though he doesn’t change — people change their perception of him, and his life becomes more stimulating as a result.

A ridiculous subplot is added on, where super-macho rugby player and personnel director, Félix Santini, who is a gay-basher and hated Pignon even when he thought he was straight, is told by the troublemaking practical joker PR (Thierry Lhermitte), a trusted confidant of his, that his job is now in jeopardy because of his homophobic attitude and that he better kiss up to Pignon. This causes Santini to go overboard in trying to make friends with Pignon, as he takes him to dine in a fancy restaurant, buys him chocolates and an expensive cashmere sweater. All this leads to his wife leaving him for chasing after a gay man and when Pignon turns down his request to come live with him, he is hospitalized for a nervous breakdown.

The other person who now finds Pignon attractive because he’s gay is his immediate boss, the head accountant, Mlle. Bertrand (Michele Laroque). When Pignon was straight the attractive lady ignored him but now that she figured out he’s pretending to be gay to save his job, she finds him alluring and seduces him.

Once you see where this strained comedy is going, it’s all familiar and predictable and dullish. Its two most vulgar and probably crowd pleasing sketches are real reaches. One shows the meek accountant advertising his company’s product while seated on a float during the Gay Pride parade, as he’s dressed with a pink condom bonnet atop his head. In another ludicrous sketch, Pignon’s screwing Mlle. Bertrand on the assembly line belt as a group of Japanese clients are given a tour of the plant by the imperious boss.

In the end, no point is meaningfully made. Even if it pushes for tolerance in the workforce, its heart isn’t in the message. It should also be noted that the director used the name Pignon for his hapless and boring matchstick-builder protagonist in his other social comedy film. Veber must be attached to that name.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”