French Screwball One of the Year’s Best Imports


Who’s afraid of Chantal Akerman? The Belgian-born, post-New Wave rebel has, like compatriots Resnais and Rivette, lightened with age, and her latest film is a merry confection, set almost entirely in a crowded duplex owned by neurotic hack-writer Sylvie Testud, and now the home as well to bubbleheaded mom Aurore Clément and her houseload of furniture. But neither of the preoccupied, biorhythmically unpredictable women can sleep, so they decide to sell, unleashing an oceanic ebb and tide of prospective buyers, lonely housewives, painfully honest realtors (!), clinical sex talk, clutter, and more clutter. It’s real estate screwball, and as in the best French comedies, social barriers are vaporized in seconds and strangers share heartbreak, quirkiness, and vices at the drop of a chapeau. The generational battle lines you expect are never drawn; as Akerman searches for new ways for the characters to ricochet, Testud—chain-smoking in a misbuttoned blouse through the whole movie—reveals herself to be an adroit comedienne. Natacha Régnier and Lucas Belvaux loiter in the pleasant crowd, rethinking their lives and always threatening to break out into song. No DVD supps to speak of, but there’s a lot of love in the room—this is one of the year’s best imports, even if it did go straight to disc.