Faites Sauter La Banque!, Rrrrrrr!

Two French comedies with exclamation points in their titles.

Faites Sauter La Banque!, or Let’s Break the Bank!, is a Louis de Funes vehicle from 1963. I had been promised (warned?) that de Funes was “The French Jerry Lewis” (whatever THAT means), so I was expecting something quite broad, if not unwatchably garish and shrill.

Luckily, de Funes is nothing like that. Born in 1914, he made over 100 movies in France. In Banque! he comes off not so much like Jerry Lewis but Jackie Gleason. He doesn’t have Gleason’s weight or immense presence (he is, in fact, rather slight and unassuming in appearance, more Joe Pesci than Jackie Gleason), but he plays a similar character: the long suffering, easily frustrated, put-upon paterfamilias, who’s just trying to keep his head above water and will resort to crazy schemes to do so.

American audiences will recognize this character not just from Gleason but Fred Flintstone (I know, I know), Fred’s futuristic cousin George Jetson, Fred MacMurray from My Three Sons, and Dagwood Bumstead (all of which more or less overlap in time; what was going on in world culture that these put-upon dads all showed up at the same time?)

The crazy scheme this time around is: de Funes has been defrauded of his life savings by the unscrupulous banker whose bank is across the street from de Funes’s sporting-goods shop. de Funes hatches a harebrained scheme to tunnel under his store and into the bank vault, and enlists the aid of his foggy, scatterbrained family to complete the task.

Complications ensue, as they inevitably must.

It’s fleet, it’s funny, it’s only a little dated, it has no ending, and it zips by in an hour and twenty-three minutes.

de Funes’s comedy is only a wee bit broad, based in stage performance but not distractingly so, very quick and very detailed.

Woody Allen fans will note that Allen lifted the basic concept and an entire scene from Faites Sauter La Banque! for use in Small Time Crooks, where the bank robbers hit a water main, then rush upstairs to the store to get repairing supplies and find the last person who they want to know about the tunnel. Even a couple of lines of dialogue made it into Allen’s film.

Rrrrrrr! is a much later comedy (2004) written and directed by Alain Chabat, who has made a name for himself in France as a creator of solidly, unapologetically commercial comedies.

Rrrrrrr! is what I would call a “prehistoric procedural,” the story of the world’s first homicide investigation, in fact the story of the world’s first homicide. There is serial killer loose in caveman days, and a pair of slackers are assigned the task of finding the culprit.

The movie is very funny, succeeding most when it sends up conventions of policiers (“don’t worry, they can’t see you through this two-way rock” says one of the detectives to a wary witness). The humor is rather Pythonesque, and Americans can be assured that this is a genuine cultural artifact by the presence of Gerard Depardieu and Jean Rochefort in supporting roles.

Sight gags and linguistic jokes abound. Everyone in the tribe is named Pierre (or “Stan” in the English translation), due apparently to a lack of imagination on the part of the tribal chieftain. All animals in the movie have mammoth-like tusks, including ducks, chickens and frogs. A babysitter is paid “half a boarmoth” for watching the kids.

The murderer is revealed early on. The characters, and indeed the movie, are in no hurry. There is no mystery to speak of, and the stakes remain low throughout the movie, the better for the gags to flow.

I have no idea if either of these movies are available in any form in the US.
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7 Responses to “Faites Sauter La Banque!, Rrrrrrr!”
  1. urbaniak says:

    I have no idea if either of these movies are available in any form in the US.

    I thought California was still part of America.