Review: Year of the Shark
- Surfing the wave of the summertime pleasures of comedy and angst, Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma cunningly revisit Jaws as craftsmen of quirkiness and diversion
"Nothing had ever happened here before. All people did was sit on their asses on the sand and watch the waves". Welcome to present-day La Pointe, a small seaside town in Southwest France where the local radio programme "Bernard and Bernard" rejoices in the 38-degree heat and the strong, dazzling sunshine, not bothered in the slightest by global warming doom mongers. But the fish in the area see thing differently; they’re migrating ever further North, one of them in particular who boasts spine-tinglingly dangerous 1.2-metre-wide jaws and who treats himself to a summer holiday of paddling and appetizers in the new film by brothers Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, Year of the Shark [+see also:
interview: Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma
film profile], which was unveiled in a world premiere at the 21st Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival (NIFFF) ahead of its release in France on 3 August (to be organised by The Jokers/Les Bookmakers). Thus we see a disaster waiting to happen, and hailing from elsewhere, lurking beneath the ocean’s surface in La Pointe, against a typical backdrop of denial, reminiscent of times gone by. But an obsessive look-out opens everyone’s eyes: sergeant chief Maja (Marina Foïs).
How does this movie set itself apart from the unsurpassable example set by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975)? By playing with the divide between seriousness and quirkiness without ever sliding into all-out parody, by successfully combining comedy and anxiety, and by painting a slightly offbeat portrait (both caustic and affectionate) of provincial life, all while following in the wake of a stubborn heroine (bogged down by the ultra-patriotic meaning she injects into her duty as a police officer and the unspeakable malaise she feels just days ahead of her early retirement) who wouldn’t look too out of place in a Coen brothers movie.
Suspicion, a body and confirmation of a very real danger, a heated public meeting between the mayor and local business owners, the closure of beaches and the objections which ensue ("they’re determined to piss me off: last year Covid, now a shark… What’s there going to be next year? Aliens?"), fishing off the coast with blood-soaked bate, the capturing of the enemy, the honour that follows and the resulting backlash when the beast escapes and rages once again, an appeal to experts from Réunion Island, the public crucifixion of Maja who becomes the scape-goat for this local chaos and the target of their revenge, and then the final duel… Concocted by the directors, the film’s plot progresses at a rapid pace, slaloming between action film and social and sentimental comedy, with police officers Blaise (Jean-Pascal Zadi) and Eugénie (Christine Gautier) playing the parts of blundering team members, and Kad Merad as Maja’s patient husband who’s nonetheless worried about his wife’s shark (and subsequent firearms) fixation, which barely conceals her pride, guilt and fear of growing old ("we’re 50, not 80; we’re not dead yet").
With their 3rd feature film after Willy 1er [+see also:
film profile] (gracing Cannes’ ACID selection in 2016) and Teddy [+see also:
film profile] (screened in Cannes’ Official Selection in 2020), Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma confirm their cinematographic nerve by casually and unpretentiously squaring up to unbeatable reference films within the genre, forestalling comparisons by way of their unique approach (little, varied touches beneath a nigh-on slapstick exterior, perfectly staged underwater action, well-thought-out narrative simplicity, and the perfect distance adopted in their ever-affectionate character portrayals). In short, it’s the ideal recipe for an intelligent, funny and entertaining film to kick back with in the summer.
(Translated from French)
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