THE CARRIERS ARE WAITING (Benoît Mariage, 1999)

A brilliant, painfully funny tragicomedy about family in a Belgian suburb within sight of a grimy industrial landscape, former documentarian Benoît Mariage’s Les convoyeurs attendent beautifully mixes naturalism and surrealism.
     The Clossets live on Impasse Jaunet. (Note both names: family; street.) A newspaper photojournalist, Roger runs to each newsworthy event that’s reported on his police band radio. His wife, Madeleine, is plainly patient, tolerant, long-suffering. Her stoicism is matched by the couple’s 8-year-old daughter, Luise, whose shyness is matched by her sensitivity to what goes on around her. Her teenaged brother, Michel, is sweet on Jocelyne. Félix, a reclusive neighbor (Philippe Grand’Henry, giving the best performance), works in a factory but lives for the competitive carrier pigeons he raises. Like Luise, who befriends this kindred spirit, he is shy, quiet, gentle, kind. A greedy local bully fancies Félix’s prize pigeon, Napoléon.
     Roger yearns for a bit of status in his bleak life. To win a car to replace his demoralizing scooter, he orders Michel to beat the current Guinness record for door openings, walk-throughs and closings in a 24-hour period. The lone standing frame and door that he sets up outside, for Michel’s tortuous training, is out of Magritte; the contest itself unfolds in a boxing ring. Many superlative shots situate Roger in the foreground while in the background Michel practices—a projection of Roger’s desire to find a door to success that is getting him nowhere. Roger bullies his son to distraction, leading to a self-destructive (and car-destructive) act that leaves Michel comatose. It is in such a state that Michel and pregnant Jocelyne participate in the weirdest wedding ceremony since Luchino Visconti’s The Damned (1969).
     Roger reminds me of my own father: insecure, cruel, erupting into violence, awash in crocodile tears.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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