Both these films were made by Varda as collaborations with Jane Birkin. The idea for Kung-Fu Master! came from Birkin during the production of Jane B. and so Varda helped her realise the concept. Varda’s similarly playful (and similarly titled) final film Varda par Agnès (2019) is released in the UK this Friday 19 July.
There’s a certain kind of French film, like this one, which has a light and frothy quality to it — all well-heeled middle-class houses and high society fashion worn by venerable actors at the top of their game (including Catherine Deneuve) — while nevertheless trying to pick away at something hidden under that luxe surface. Here we get the story of a civil service accountant Marc (Belgian actor Benoît Poelvoorde) who finds himself doing an audit in a provincial town, where he bumps into Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and they have a one-night stand. They agree to meet again in Paris, but he misses the appointment and doesn’t have any details for her. Some time later he returns to the small town, where he meets Sophie (Chiara Mastroianni) and strikes up a romance with her. She, of course, and unbeknown to him, turns out to be Sylvie’s sister. There’s a well-worn pleasure in the way things progress from here, ever reliant on some rather stretched plotting, but you get the sense that the filmmaker’s interest is in the way this conventionally-boring man can inveigle his way into the lives of others and upset their carefully-ordered world. There’s a recurring musical motif in the soundtrack that suggests the intended tone is more horror film or dark, psychological thriller than comedy, but if so, it’s a peculiar form of middle-class domestic horror. I’d perhaps have had more time for it if Poelvoorde was more convincing as the buttoned-up lothario character; I never really believed that these women would fall for him in the way they did. That said, it’s all perfectly enjoyable fluff that, unlike its central character, doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Director Benoît Jacquot; Writers Julien Boivent and Jacquot; Cinematographer Julien Hirsch; Starring Benoît Poelvoorde, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve; Length 106 minutes.
Seen at Odeon West End, London, Saturday 19 October 2014.