MAN IN THE BASEMENT, THE
(director/writer: Philippe Le Guay; screenwriters: Gilles Taurand/ Miles Weitzmann; cinematographer: Guillaume Deffontaines; music: Bruno Coulais; cast: Berenice Bejo (Helene), Jeremie Renier (Simon), Francois Cluzet (Jacques Fonzic), Jonathan Zaccaï (David Sandberg), Sharif Andoura (Luka Steiner), Denise Chalem (Nelly Sandberg), Victoria Eber (Justine); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Anne-Dominique Toussaint; Greenwich Entertainment; 2021-France-in French with English subtitles)
“A smart, tense French thriller exposing social issues.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A smart, tense French thriller exposing social issues is sharply directed by French filmmaker Philippe Le Guay (“Florida”/”Naked Normandy”), but not without some flaws in executing a few scenes, and co-written by him, Gilles Taurand and Miles Weitzmann. It tries to tell us how fanatics can troll us and upset us with their absurd questions over what’s real or fake.
Simon (Jérémie Renier) is the liberal secular Jewish patriarch of a family in Paris, whose relatives didn’t survive the Holocaust. In his haste to sell the family’s wine cellar located in the basement at the bottom of their apartment (a place his uncle hid from the Nazis), he sells it to the first person who wants to buy it without checking him out. Soon Simon and his Catholic wife, Hélène (Bérénice Bejo), are shocked to discover the man, a former fired high school history teacher, Jacques Fonzic (François Cluzet), has moved in and is an obnoxious Holocaust denier.
Simon’s efforts to evict the man fail in the legal system, despite France being a country where it’s a crime to deny the Holocaust but, at the same time, it’s also illegal to cancel a real estate deal after the payment is made.
Meanwhile their free-thinking teenage daughter Justine (Victoria Eber) chats with the intelligent but wrong-thinking stranger, to the consternation of the family. The bigot can’t stop questioning if the Holocaust was real and refuses to check out the facts as he instead ignorantly sticks to his false beliefs.
The bigot makes for an unpleasant cellar guest.
The question is what to do with him if he doesn’t have enough sense to leave a place he’s clearly not wanted on his own. Simon ponders what he can do lawfully to evict the rude anti-Semite while his more religious brother David (Jonathan Zaccaï) wants to force-ably remove him.
The film is superbly acted by the ensemble cast, and is devilishly thought-provoking.
REVIEWED ON 2/21/2023 GRADE: B