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Slack Bay (2016)—FranceSlack Bay (2016)—France

In the first few minutes of his dark and absurdist comedy, Bruno Dumont introduces his three plot lines. The movie is set in 1910, in a coastal town near Calais. There's the gritty Brufort villagers who gather oysters, and who look downright Dickensian in their grinding poverty. There's the eccentric and aristocratic Van Peteghems, who have come to their hillside villa — the Tyhonium, "built in the Egyptian style," for their annual family vacation. Between these two are the bungling police duo of Chief Inspector Machin, an obese man who makes the beach sand creak with every step, and his sidekick Malfoy, who is half his size. Think Laurel and Hardy, complete with suits and bowler hats. What ties these families together is a mystery, that there have been tourists who have gone missing, and a teenage romance between Ma Loute Brufort and the gender-bending Billie Van Peteghem. Overt class conflict is only one of the themes at work here. There's a nihilist tinge to both families in their transgression of two of humanity's deepest taboos. At least three times in the film another Van Peteghem cousin repeats in heavily accented English what might be Dumont's main message, "We know what to do, but we do not do." I watched this film after seeing it listed as a "hidden gem" on Netflix Streaming. In French with English subtitles.

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