Comedy is like pastry: trying to make something light and original with sugar. Albert Dupontel explored it throughout his career by adding bitter ingredients: his movies are at the same time funny, odd, sad and sometimes deep. His style has evolved, from weird first movies to lately an excellent comedy (9 mois ferme (2013)) and a stylised feature (Au revoir là-haut (2017), though not my favourite as it felt like "Amélie Poulain & World War I"). "Adieu les cons" ("Bye bye morons") is one of Dupontel's best, more controlled than ever without losing creativity and wit. As indicated by the title, it is slightly provocative, however there is more than that.
DEPTH & NOSTALGIA
The movie addresses numerous serious topics: workplace injuries (Suze's intoxication), corporate pressure, bureaucratic inefficiency, dehumanisation (e.g. mispronounced names), burnout, suicide, teenage mothers, abandoned children, filiation (recurrent Dupontel theme), extensive digital surveillance, police violence (hot topic nowadays in France), cities transformed into grey blocks. And lighter ones: psychologists' claptrap, doctors' indecipherable handwriting, our addiction to mobiles (the shot in the metro, the crowd at the end), the silly things one does when in love. Depth is relative since it remains a comedy, but the variety and relevance of subjects is significant.
The vision is nostalgic, even pessimistic, as hinted by "Adieu" from the title. The past frequently barges in: flashbacks, teenage Suze in the flesh, files of bygone persons and places, the archivist's evocation of the city, the doctor's diary, photos of his trips with his wife. However these memories clash with a grim present. Adieu our past we messed up. Why did he have to become blind? Why could she not keep her child? Why did we destroy maternity hospitals? Why did we disfigure our cities? Why do we work for these corporations? Why are we addicted to networks that are tracking our intimacy? Les cons, c'est aussi nous (we also are the morons). The happiest character, all considered, is the doctor with Alzheimer disease who cannot compare past and present; he can just look at pictures of joyful moments with his wife.
THE SILVER LINING
Yet there frequently seems to be a silver lining:
- Suze finds her fateful scans at the beginning "beautiful".
- Persons with various issues (auto-immune disease, burnout, blindness, Alzheimer) manage to unite and succeed.
- The ending is at the same time happy (Clara & Adrien) and tragic (Suze & Jean-Baptiste).
- Teenagers are having fun dancing on "Mala vida" (bad life) before Suze gets pregnant. This electric scene also closes the movie.
Humour is omnipresent; there are many slapstick moments to alleviate tension, down to details (for instance when Jean-Baptiste goes away from the overturned car, the policeman inside tries to grab his leg). The view on people is overall positive; most issues are emerging from organisations: companies, administration, police.
Action successfully unravels from beginning to end without heaviness or slack. There are witty references.
- In the flashback where teenage Suze dances with her lover, the lyrics fit the situation: "You are giving me a bad life" ("Tu me estás dando mala vida") since he will make her pregnant... although reversed since the song is addressed from a man to his girlfriend.
- When the gang is trying to decipher the doctor's diary with his wife, there are madeleines on the table: a reference to the Proustian madeleine since they are exploring his past, twenty-eight years back.
- There are nods to Brazil (1985), a dystopian classic: the short yet notable presence of director Terry Gilliam in the advertising, some names (Kurtzman, Lint, Tuttle), situations (e.g. tubes hanging from the ceiling), scenery (e.g. the archives).
However some parts are not fully convincing, notably towards the end.
- The story between Clara and Adrien is shallow: the movie could have previously expanded upon their characters to increase the emotional impact of the meeting in the elevator, which is too easily handled anyhow.
- There could have been a moving reunion of mother and son, but that would have required subtlety that, to be honest, is mostly missing from Dupontel's work since the main driver is energy.
- The final scene with Suze and Jean-Baptiste is too exaggerated to be conclusive.