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THAT DAY (Ce jour-là) (director/writer: Raul Ruiz; cinematographer: Acácio de Almeida; editor: Valeria Sarmiento; music: Jorge Arriagada; cast: Bernard Giraudeau (Emil Pointpoirot), Elsa Zylberstein (Livia), Jean-Luc Bideau (Raufer, Police Chief), Jean-François Balmer (Treffle), Christian Vadim (Ritter, police officer), Michel Piccoli (Harald), Edith Scob (Leone), Laurent Malet (Roland), Rufus (Hubus), Féodor Atkine (Warff), Hélène Surgère (Bernadette), Laurence Février (Edmonde), Jean-Michel Portal (Vogel), Jean-Baptiste Puech (Luc), Jacques Denis (Morelli); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Paulo Branco/Patricia Plattner; Gemini Films; 2003-Switzerland-in French with English subtitles)
“One of Ruiz’s more accessible but minor works.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Prolific Chilean-born French filmmaker Raul Ruiz’s (“Three Lives and Only One Death”/”Time Regained”) surrealist black comedy reminds one of Chabrol’s full frontal assault on the bourgeoisie. It’s set in the Swiss state and mocks their idea of law enforcement, the thin veneer that separates madness from sanity, mankind’s penchant for greed, false religious beliefs and the misinterpretation of innocence.

Nutty dreamer Livia (Elsa Zylberstein) is the sole heiress to her deceased mom’s vast fortune. While sitting on a park bench near the entrance of the San Michelle asylum she jots down in her notebook that tomorrow is destined to bring great change and be the best day of her life, or rather the most important day. One of the inmates on a biking trip passing by, named Emil Pointpoirot (Bernard Giraudeau), falls and she translates that to mean he’s an angel. According to her logic, all earthly angels have fallen. In reality, he’s a serial killer with uncontrollable urges to kill. Soon Livia is brought home to the family’s country estate by faithful and good-hearted servant Treffle (Jean-François Balmer), who has dedicated his life to protecting the sweet eccentric. At the estate a bunch of contemptuous calculating relatives await the arrival of Livia’s bossy father Harald (Michel Piccoli) to return home from a business trip to celebrate his birthday. He calls to tell them he won’t be there, as he’s busy arranging a way to clear his huge debt with crooked Swiss state agent Warff (Féodor Atkine). The plan they come up with is for Warff to free psychopath Emil from the asylum, making it look like a prison escape, and thereby the nutcase will kill Livia and the estate will go to her brother Luc who will pay off the debt. If Luc should die, the Swiss state will inherit the estate. Harald finds an excuse to have Treffle leave the premises for the day and thereby Livia is home alone. When the diabetic sociopath, believing he’s following God’s orders as translated by his benefactor Warff, arrives on the doorsteps of Livia’s secluded mansion, the two kooks hit it off and instead of killing her knocks off five of her scheming relatives who poke around the house to see if she’s dead. Livia acts gleefully oblivious of what’s going down. While all this is happening the police chief (Jean-Luc Bideau) and police officer (Christian Vadim) instead of conducting a search for the escapee absurdly rationalize that it’s best to do nothing but work underhandedly in the shadows, which means they sit around all day in Morelli’s bistro.

It never gets beyond the playful farce stage as the tale is filled with droll humor and absurd situations, but it remains entertaining as one of Ruiz’s more accessible but minor works.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”