My first Sundance film Friday morning was Louise-Michel, a French-style mind-messing am-I-laughing-with-these-characters-or-at-them? transgendered revenge comedy playing in the Foreign Drama Competition. Yeah -- when will someone finally come up with some new stories in film making? Louise (Yolande Moreau) is a laborer at a local factory who comes to work one day to find the entire operation gone; abandoned alongside her co-workers, Louise -- who's not terribly bright -- suggests that they pool their severance and hire a hitman to kill the boss; she knows someone from when she was in prison. But Louise can't find her old confederate, and instead hires Michel (Bouli Lanners), a 'security expert' with no real clients, no phone, no e-mail and a variety of handmade guns courtesy of his engineer neighbor. The hunt is on! Oh, and Louise used to be a man and Michel used to be a woman. And Michel can't bring himself to kill, so he convinces terminally ill friends to act as triggermen.
Playing like a John Waters satire with Dardenne-styled long shots, Louise-Michel aggressively resists easy enjoyment; there are some laughs in it, but Louise is clearly developmentally disabled and Michel's a buffoon. Is the entire film meant to shock, like the sequence where Michel's mad engineer neighbor recreates 9-11 with scale models to prove a metallurgical conspiracy theory? Are co-writers and co-directors Gustave De Kervern and Benoit Delepine commenting on how the gap between rich and poor is going to take more than knee-jerk violence to undo, or saying that it's at the least a good start? Louise-Michel sends not very bright and delusional characters to punish the owner's class for exploiting workers; is Louise-Michel suggesting it's not very bright and delusional to think anything can be done about layoffs, maximum profit, and outsourcing? And what to make of the ending's final nativity scene, or the fact that the transgendered characters seem to reverse their decisions in the name of family and love? A closing title offered the fact the film's title is taken from Louise Michel, a 19th-century French anarchist; that information and some quick research didn't clarify things much. I really wish I'd seen Louise-Michel at a public screening -- just to enjoy counting the walkouts -- and at the same time, as it writhed and squirmed across the screen, I thought, Well, really, isn't this what you come here for, at least in part?