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Francois Pignon (Daniel Auteuil), the
hero of Francis Vebers The Closet, is too
anonymous to be an Everymanhes a Nobodyman. Hes been grinding his life
away as an accountant at the same rubber-goods factory for 20 years. He lives alone in an
apartment that feels more like a waiting room than a home. Hes a creature of habit,
wearing the same blue suit every day, and invariably greeting his coworkers each morning
by asking them if theyd like some coffee. (They never do.) Hes too bland to be
despised, except perhaps by his ex-wife and son, who have cut him out of their lives. Life
has passed Francois overit couldnt even be troubled to give him a
So when Francois overhears that hes about to be fired, its the last strawhes ready to kill himself. Hes saved, though, by his neighbor Belone (Michel Aumont), a retired corporate psychologist who knows just how to save Francois job. Belone plants the rumor at Francois company that hes gay, and overnight everyone sees him in a new light. His bosses, not wanting to offend their biggest client pool (condoms are their biggest product), withdraw the termination. Assuming that his bland exterior must be masking a libertine, Francois associates begin projecting their own personalities onto him, especially a homophobic coworker (Gerard Depardieu) who grows increasingly obsessed with him. Eventually, even Francois dismissive family gets scent of the rumor, and is forced to take fresh stock of the husband and father they thought they knew. The one person who sees through the new Francois is his comely accounting colleague, Mlle. Bertrand (Michele Laroque), and shes the one that has a front row seat when Francois finally begins to assert himself.
Vebers direction rarely rises above the functionalonly one shot of a disconsolate Depardieu sitting on a garden bench looks like it wasnt framed for a sitcom. His sense of visual wit is so inexact that the sight of Francois riding on a parade float while wearing a hat thats a huge condom is more depressing than amusing. (Its Auteuil the actor, and not Francois the character, that looks miserable.) Vebers camera wanders over the whimsical machinery that his production team designed for the condom factory without ever giving us a good look at it. The bright blue machines look like giant toys, and with a little more imagination they couldve had the classic combination of simplicity and corporate soullessness that the assembly lines have in A nous la liberte and Modern Times
Yet for all of his problems as a director, Vebers script has a genuine sweetness to it, partly because Francois never changes on the outside. Where most comedies would have forced him to wear progressively campier outfits until hed finally be going to work in drag, Francois never gives up his blue suit. He remains boringly straight on the surfacethat is to say, he stays true to himselfand the story never forces him to prove his gayness through nelly shrieks or any other degrading shtick. And there are other unexpected (if small) rewards, such as a line of dialogue about a pink sweater that Depardieus character delivers after hes suffered a nervous breakdownits an inanely touching moment.
Daniel Auteuil looks so different from one appearance to the next that its fun just trying to connect the guy youre watching now with the guy youve seen in other movies. Here hes playing a Tony Randall character, but Auteuil has too much self-respect to play him the way that Randall would. His very self-effacingness makes Francois compelling, and such simple actions as hanging up a coat become almost absurdly interesting to watch because his fastidious Francois does everything as a series of steps. Depardieu is almost literally straight-jacketed in his early sceneshis suit looks a couple sizes too smalland ultimately his character doesnt have enough to do to warrant the casting of a major star. But Michele Laroque is a find, a full-bodied, womanly presence thats all the more attractive for her maturity. Its easy to see why Mlle. Bertrand can help chase away Francois blues.
- Tom Block