Probably the most pleasant surprise package so far has come to me in the form of Happy Few, the second feature by French film-maker Antony Cordier (Cold Showers). Cordier also co-wrote the script, though from the easy-going and naturalistic tone that hangs over much of the movie, I would imagine there is some improvisation involved. Especially during some of the long and deceptively simple single takes that adorn this wonderful dramatic comedy.
The story is one you’ve probably seen before: two couples meet, hit it off and soon they swap partners in an ongoing spouse-sharing arrangement – without establishing any ground rules. What starts off as a lot of fun, inevitably leads to jealousy, insecurity and heartbreak (though refreshingly never threats of violence). The great thing about Happy Few, however, is that it somehow feels fresh and cliché free. In no small part down to the wonderful leading actors, I’m sure.
The four main players are all excellent. Especially Nicolas Duvauchelle (White Material, The Girl on the Train) who excels here – it is the first role I have seen him in where he isn’t a little bit dangerous and insane, which is also nice. They are all convincing as lovers and as friends.
As lovers especially. So far this festival has had a running theme in the unflinching and matter-of-fact depiction of sexuality: Black Swan, Norwegian Wood and Happy Few all depict graphic and extended scenes of sex. The Japanese-made Norwegian Wood being the least candid, but all three explicitly show acts of oral sex and masturbation as a matter of course. In all three the sex also verges on the disturbing side at times (especially Aranofsky’s movie), usually in close-up. Happy Few is the most explicit, with many scenes where it is hard to tell that are simulated. Unique among the three, the latter film also plays it for laughs.
British people laugh at innuendo, but the continental crowd at the Sala Darsena laughed (hysterically, I add) at jokes based on human behaviour around sex itself. Of course, I’m generalising, but this was a far cry from Carry On. Happy Few delighted the audience with its subtle observational humour as it transgressed the norms of sexual behaviour. For example, as one of the men walks in on his wife with another man, he acts as though it is normal and pours himself a drink. He then helps the other man move a sofa back into its usual position. This is probably the most outlandish example, but it’s the first that came to mind.
Believe me: the crowds in Venice usually go from polite clapping to enthusiastic applause. Happy Few got excited wolf-whistles when it ended. It deserved them. I’m still rooting for Black Swan, but I wouldn’t begrudge this one the Lion. The best, and funniest, film about sex since Humpday.
Happy Few is gearing up to a Sept. 15th release in France, with no wider distribution deal secured just yet.
Venice 2010 Reviews;
This article was first posted on September 3, 2010