NORMANDIE NUE (Naked Normandy). Starring: Francois Cluzet, and Gregory Gadebois. Also starring, Francois Xavier Demaison, Julie-Anne Roth, Pili Groyne, and Toby Jones. Directed by Philippe Le Guay. Rated M (Mature themes, nudity, and coarse language). 109 min.
This subtitled, French comedy-drama tells the story of a French mayor who has to convince the villagers in the rural Normandy town of Mele sur Sarthe, to pose naked for an American photographer. The visitor’s expertise in photography is that he specialises in photographing people in large groups, who are willing to take their clothes off.
The film stars Francois Cluzet, who took the lead role as the Parisian aristocrat in the popular hit comedy, “The Intouchables” in 2011.
In this film. George (Francois Cluzet) is a middle-age dairy farmer in a quiet, laid-back village in Normandy. He works hard at being a farmer, but also he happens to be the mayor of the town, which gives him two demanding jobs. His dedication to both of them is the reason why his wife has left him.
Times are hard economically in the town, and the farmers are severely affected by the crisis. Sales of their meat and milk are way down; farmers are selling their equipment to survive; and several farmers have attempted suicide. Everyone is looking for a way to solve the problem.
The farmers meet and reluctantly decide they need to stage a protest to draw public attention to their plight. Their efforts at mounting a protest, however, largely go unnoticed. Word spreads that an American photographer, famous for taking pictures of naked crowds, is passing through the village, which suggests to the mayor that the problem might be fixed by a picture of the villagers standing naked in one of the town’s fields. George is willing to do anything to save his town, and he knows that the photographer in question likes the town, and has already picked out the field which he wants to photograph.
Not unsurprisingly, the townspeople see problems. A jealous butcher (Gregory Gadebois) doesn’t want his curvaceous wife - Miss Calvados, 1997- disrobing in front of others. Two farmers squabble about who owns a piece of the land; and many of the villagers are discomforted by what they are asked to do.
The problem for George, as mayor of the village, is that he must find a way around all the objections. He succeeds, but it takes a variety of subplots reaching their own dramatic denouements to show how, and why, action proceeds. In a brief moment of community empowerment, when the going-nude occurs, the village ends up bonding happily together.
Cinematography in the movie captures the gorgeous countryside of rural Normandy, and the realities of farming life are convincingly depicted by the camerawork under the control of the film’s Director, Philippe Le Guay. However, the film is littered with complicated character subplots, that turn a potentially good situational French comedy into something else. Instead of a film that is warm, well-targeted, situationally comic, and affectionately humane, Philippe Le Guay delivers, a light film that entertains without a great deal of dramatic depth.
None of the characters in the movie is developed in detail, and the variety of subplots distract from the main plot line of the movie which is how the villagers’ objections are overcome for the greater benefit of the town. George emerges victorious as the town’s diligent mayor, but more explanation is needed of how they all got there.
This is not Le Guay’s best work. Overall, this is a congenial, pleasant comedy that draws smiles rather than laughter as it unfolds. It lacks bite in its complexity and in the variety of its subplots, but from time to time it provides some witty and enjoyable glances at French rural life.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 29th., 2018