When I saw the face of Steve Carrel in "The Dinner of Schmucks" remake, I knew they got the meaning of the word totally wrong, 'cons' is not about being retarded or eccentric, it's a state of mind, something that doesn't strike the eyes, not at first sight anyway.
"Con" is a generic insult in France that takes a lot of meanings, it either refers to a dumb or extremely naive person, a socially awkward geek, a dork, someone so blinded by a passion that he can't realize how ridicule he is in the eyes of common people, stupid is not the most faithful synonym, because a 'con' can have a high I.Q, but what do they all have in common, they don't have the intelligence of the situation, and are the target of mean-spirited people who use them as foils to appear smarter, and that they can easily be fooled allows society to label them as 'idiots'. This is sad but true, and Veber's "Diner de Cons" aka "The Dinner Game" builds its plot on a cruel purpose with mean spirited snobs inviting idiots to elect a winner at the end of the evening, and Thierry Lhermitte aka Pierre Brochant, a wealthy publisher, is one of these bad guys.
There is a French word to describe a man like Brochant, a 'salaud', a bastard if you prefer, a guy eager to make fun of less smart people, while the so-called Dinner Game can be seen as a tacit bullying, all these dumb-chasers would argue that they don't harm anyone because the purpose of the game is not to let the idiots know why they were invited. It's like 'a crime without victims'. And the players really take their hateful game seriously, each participant having a sort of scout to find the right idiot, either a colleague eager to express some 'new' ideas, a man with strange hobbies, finding a good idiot is not that an easy task. And one day, Brochant receives a phone call from a friend who found a 'world champion': Jacques Villeret as François Pignon, a civil servant working in the Minister of Treasury and building replicas of landmarks with matchsticks, what a promising pedigree!
Many people tend to minimize the emphasis on the word 'con' by arguing that we're all the idiots of someone. While it might be true, it doesn't appear to be the message of the film where the personality traits are clearly defined. While not a plain idiot, Pignon is a sweet and lovable buffoon and despite his meanness, Pierre Brochant strikes as a brilliant and intelligent person. The film doesn't try to reverse roles to demonstrate the former idea, and the lyrics of the opening song brilliantly deliver the message that age has nothing to do with brains, when we're an idiot; we're an idiot, period. The genius little song from George Brassens foreshadows the inevitability of the mayhem caused by François Pignon, directly affecting Pierre Brochant's life. And it all starts with the nice twist (indeed) when Brochant hurts his back while golfing and is forced to cancel his participation. After discovering how brilliantly dumb François Pignon is, he decides to go anyway, much to the reluctance of his wife, who therefore leaves him.
The movie takes off when Brochant is left alone, incapable to move and with Pignon trying to help him, to see where his wife have gone. And as soon as the movie starts (the set-up took a little time, but for the best) the film features a succession of never-ending misunderstandings, gaffes, and remarkable displays of clumsiness that elevate "The Dinner Game" to a masterpiece level in the comedy of errors genre. Surprisingly, the film is mostly set in Brochant's luxurious apartment, conveying a sort of trapped sensation. The film is adapted from a play written by Francis Veber and the unity of time, space and plot contributes to a coherent plot getting crescendo, each disaster provoked by Pignon leading to a bigger disaster when he tries to make up for the first. In the progress, other characters make their entrance, Brochant's ex-friend played by a brilliant Francis Huster, Just Leblanc (whose name will create one of the most hilarious cases of misunderstanding in French cinema) not to mention the scene-stealing performance of Daniel Prevost as François's friend, a hard-nosed tax inspector. Alexandra Van Der Noot and Catherine Frot also deserve accolades for the two female parts that will get mixed up by the poor Mr. Pignon.
The casting, while minimalist, is enough to conduct the movie with laughs and laughs, creating one of the greatest and most unanimously praised French comedies and Veber's true masterpiece. Indeed, Veber's comedies often relied on the simple but efficient buddy duo, with the white-faced clown and the Auguste, when the laughs mostly came from the reactions of the straight guy rather than the actions of the funny one, but this time, there's also a cynical yet delightful pleasure from seeing the Lhermitte character so tormented. His nightmarish journey seems deserved, and it would take a lot of pains to feel sorry for him because his wife left him, after all, she left him because he wanted to play a humiliating game. Not a villain or an antagonist, he's still a hardly redeemable character, and all the laughs are mixed with the satisfaction to see him get through this pain. As he'd say to Pignon, he avenged in one night all the idiots who ever participated to dinner games before, and he couldn't be truer.
But as usual, Veber films don't take their 'seriousness' with seriousness, when we know where the film is going to, we're immediately surprised by a twist that gets the final spice, a masterpiece of wit, sophistication, laughs and cynicism, leading to one major conclusion : never take one's personality for granted. Indeed, just because someone looks and sounds like an idiot doesn't mean that he is not one.
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To amuse themselves at a weekly dinner, a few well-heeled folk each bring a dimwit along who is to talk about his pastime. Each member seeks to introduce a champion dumbbell. Pierre, an avid participant of the game, runs into one problem after another that devilishly compromises his secrets, turning the tables on him and his objective, which diverges as the movie progresses. Firstly, wishing to be certain he has selected a winner, he invited his guest, Mr. Pignon, to meet him at home before setting off; but night of all nights, Pierre has put his back out and it is questionable whether he can manage to get to the dinner. The blundering Mr. Pignon will continually spring forward to help relieve Pierre of his troubles, which have drastically compounded, pointing in the direction of friends, taxes and women, and Pierre's dimwit Pignon accordingly will prove his substance to the end.
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