A reporter obsessed with social mobility feels trapped by his job and family.
The cornerstone of master French director Jean Renoir's oeuvre was that everyone had their reasons. But even that great humaniser would be hard pressed to justify the excesses of Roger Closset, the ambulance-chasing photojournalist in this darkly tender Belgian comedy.
Mid-life crisis, professional malaise, family expectation - none of these quite explains a manic paternalism that borders on the abusive. Yet, thanks to a turn from Benoit Poelvoorde that recalls, yet surpasses, his work as the serial killer in Man Bites Dog, he never degenerates into a one-dimensional monster.
A scooter-riding reporter on the ironically monikered Charleroi rag, The Daily Hope, Roger's life is ruled by tip-offs from his police band radio. But as Y2K approaches, he becomes obsessed with the social mobility promised by a car being offered by local shopkeepers for outstanding individual achievement. However, being a watcher not a doer, he places the onus for victory on his teenage son, Michel (Devigne), who is more interested in deflowering one of his sister's fellow majorettes than breaking the world door-opening record.
Drawing on his documentary past, feature debutant Mariage adroitly keeps this disconcerting mix of warped humour and kitchen drama on track, using the sweetly bemused gaze of Roger's devoted daughter, Luise (Simon), to temper his antics. He also exploits Philippe Guilbert's expertly composed monochrome photography to bring an austere poetry to the coarsest of industrial landscapes.
Yet the director's soundest move was in allowing Poelvoorde so much latitude. Desensitised by his daily encounters with tragedy, Roger is a raging mass of cynicism and compassion, pride and despair, who merits a unique place in cinema's gallery of grotesques.
Poelvoorde steal the show with a performance that deserves a unique place in cinema's gallery of grotesques.