thu 19/09/2019

Mammuth | reviews, news & interviews

Mammuth

Mammuth

In a warm and witty road movie, Gérard Depardieu fills the screen. In every sense

'Unlikely but undeniable beauty': Gérard Depardieu fills the screen in 'Mammuth'

In Mammuth the immense Gérard Depardieu hits the road, on both a practical quest and spiritual journey, his enormous form testing the metal of a motorcycle. He is flanked on his travels by the glorious French countryside, wind whipping through his golden mane. It’s an image of unlikely but undeniable beauty.

Directed by Gustave Kervern and Benoît Delépine, Mammuth is an uplifting and disarmingly idiosyncratic view of retirement. It begins on Serge Pilardosse’s final day at the abattoir, where he is subjected to a rather stilted leaving bash and an excruciating, scripted speech (“Our country owes the great quality of its cured meats to you”). He is packed off with a 2,000-piece puzzle to commemorate his decade of service – a gift which speaks volumes, not only about his worth to the company but also the more general perception of retirement.

On his first day of freedom Serge (nicknamed Mammuth) is a magnet for calamity. Initially he’s at a loss, pacing up and down, hair swinging, gargantuan gut shaking. When he heads to the supermarket he immediately happens upon a customer who has collapsed (and probably died) while handling frozen vegetables, and the best Serge can manage is to poke him gingerly with a baguette. Next he starts a fight at the meat counter with a surly employee whom he believes has an under-appreciation of meat. “When you have a chance to work with ham," he advises, "take an interest in your job.” Before he leaves the store he manages to get his wife Catherine (Yolande Moreau), unhappily employed as a cashier, in trouble. On his return home Serge attempts to fix the bathroom door and ends up locking himself inside for the rest of the day.

It’s an inauspicious start to his new life of supposed leisure and, perhaps thankfully, Serge is quickly presented with a pressing task – albeit one that sounds like a horrific hassle. In order to secure the funds for his state pension Serge must track down 10 of his former employers and get them to provide affidavits of his employment. The mission is truly unenviable but does provide him with a purpose, and a chance to consider both the past and look to the future. An anxious but supportive Catherine sees him off on his motorbike, telling him to “roll like a retiree”.

isabelle-adjani-gerard-depardieu-mammuthSerge is accompanied sporadically on his journey by the ghost of a former lover who was killed years earlier in a motorcycle accident. She is played, somewhat disconcertingly, by an eerily ageless Isabelle Adjani (pictured right with Depardieu); kohl-eyed, clad in black and still bloody from the accident, she occupies the space between Kate Bush and Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. He meets plenty of other kooks on his travels, including a crafty con artist (Anna Mouglalis), and is reunited with his niece, the highly eccentric Solange (Miss Ming).

There are plenty of movies where pensioners or older gentlemen take the road to self-discovery - The Straight Story (1999), About Schmidt (2002) and Broken Flowers (2005) to name but a few. At their centre are reflective, usually taciturn leads and, squeezed into this paradigm, Depardieu takes the opportunity to remind us that subtlety is still in his repertoire; though the material is comic his is a predominantly straight performance.

Gérard Depardieu is surely the hardest-working actor in cinema. The IMDB puts his total output to date at 187 (including shorts and TV work), with seven films from 2010 alone. Despite his very particular look he’s still demonstrating an admirable range: recently we’ve seen him as a gangster in Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008), a dungaree-clad bumpkin in My Afternoons with Margueritte (2010), and imminently he’ll be appearing as a seditious left-wing politician in Potiche (2010). These days Depardieu’s girth is such that even in a long shot he fills the screen. In Mammuth he’s a glorious, fat Rapunzel, as Serge lets loose his long tresses and makes a bid for liberation. Solange endearingly and earnestly nicknames him “Uncle Potato”, which is absolutely spot-on.

Mammuth isn’t perfect: although it’s darkly witty and surprisingly warm it’s also capricious and meandering. It is, nevertheless, an honourable addition to Depardieu’s bulging body of work, with Depardieu and Yolande Moreau forming a formidable partnership up front, while Adjani makes mad eyes in the background.

These days Depardieu’s girth is such that even in a long shot he fills the screen

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