It’s interesting watching a film that is clearly meant to be one thing but despite the best efforts, you would presume, of everyone involved, ends up being quite another thing entirely.
Case in point is the Vincent Mariette written (he co-wrote with Vincent Poymiro) and directed 2014 film, Tristesse Club (Fool Circle) which is clearly aiming to be one of those breezy, quirky, emotionally resonant comedies at which the French excel.
One part idiosyncratic characters, one part ever-building farcical narrative and another part deep, soulful, life-changing introspection, films of this uniquely French type aim to provide laughs with meaning, hilarity with epiphany.
You get, in other words, a hearty chance to laugh at the absurdities of life while grappling, as the characters inevitably end up doing, with the fact that funny those situations often are, they rest on a bedrock of all kinds of loss and pain which at one point or another, must be dealt with.
Tristesse Club (Fool Circle) is clearly aiming to be among this number, introducing us to three flawed and broken characters, all of whom have a single purpose but wholly different reasons for its pursuit.
Take brothers Léon and Bruno Camus (Laurent Lafitte and Vincent Macaigne respectively), the former a onetime pro tennis star who gave it all up for medical reasons and whose life has not been the same since, and the latter a successful internet start-up entrepreneur whose business is a rip-roaring success and who is unable to find lasting love.
When news arrives of their father’s death, both men drop what they are doing to head home for a funeral and to make some sort of peace with a childhood blighted by their dad’s serial infidelity, their parents’ break-up and a less than loving fathering style.
There’s a definite cathartic element to proceedings for Bruno who is thoughtful and caring if a little unkempt and ill-at-ease around the opposite sex and who simply wants to attend the funeral, say goodbye to his father and move on.
Léon, on the other hand, just wants whatever’s coming to him in the will, partly because he’s strapped for cash and estranged from his wife and son Jérôme Camus (Emile Baujard) but because he sees getting something, anything back from his failure of father as something he deserves after a life that has not worked out even remotely like he planned.
The brothers’ plans are thrown into confusion by the presence of an unknown young woman Chloé (Ludivine Sagnier) at the funeral home, where there’s curious absence of coffin, undertaker and indeed, a funeral, who claims to be the sister they never knew they had.
There are some holes in her story but their father slept around so much that the presence of an unknown sibling fits reasonably neatly into the pattern of their father’s checkered life.
The intended fun and games start when Chloé admits that their father might not be dead after all, and that they need to find him for reasons that are never really specified.
It’s at this point in Tristesse Club (Fool Circle) that you expect Mariette to put the quirky, emotionally thoughtful pedal to the metal and go for broke.
Certainly the ingredients are there for a film that could potentially be part revelatory road trip, part dissection of the past and a freeing of long-repressed emotions for the future and all hilarious French offbeat comedy.
But that never really happens.
While Tristesse Club (Fool Circle) has its moments, both comedic and heartfelt, it never really builds up any head of steam, the narrative becoming increasingly moribund, unable to go anywhere in a way that mirrors the fact that almost all the action takes place at their father’s now repossessed house (sorry Léon but you’re getting nothing).
We meet some interesting characters such as Léon’s similarly hopeless old school friend, and a bunch of young kids who think letting off illegal firecrackers is a fun Saturday night’s diversion, and conversations of a consequential type are held between Léon and Bruno and Chloé in various meaningful configurations but by and large not of them really land with any kind of impact.
It’s like the parts are there but no one quite knows to connect them fully, the premise a rich one that could really go places but which is instead squandered in a narrative that is ever really sure what it wants to be or where it wants to go.
The only reasonably well played thread through the film is the growing relationship between Bruno and Chloé who begin to have feelings for each other that are traditionally not the preserve of brother and sister.
But is that even who they are?
The truth emerges, of course, and some things are resolved somewhat but by and marge, Tristesse Club (Fool Circle) feels like an unsatisfying series of interconnected scenes, ripe with promise but poor in execution.
It is not by any means an unwatchable film with decidedly quirky sweet moments to its credit and a sense that the quixotic journey the two brothers are on might yet be the making of their relationship but it ultimately doesn’t fire as it should and while you won’t feel robbed by Tristesse Club (Fool Circle), you may wonder whether figuratively getting into Léon’s flash red car for the trip to his and Bruno’s father’s place was such a good idea.