It would seem that the older Josiane Balasko grows off-camera, the younger she becomes on it. In fact, that may be the idea behind “Demi-Souer,” the latest from the French comedienne.
A comedy whose success is largely based on one’s appreciation of Balasko’s go-for-broke antics, “Demi-Souer” finds the star/writer/director at her most spry and playful as Nénette, a simpleton who isn’t quite ready to be shuffled off into an assisted care center after her mother passes away. With a bowl haircut and a tortoise named Tootie, she’s essentially a grown child, whining when she needs to board the car that will take her to the Lindens living facility and then singing loudly along with her walkman as she’s being admitted. Yet she isn’t there for long, naturally wandering off and finding a sense of purpose when she discovers she has a half-brother named Paul (Michel Blanc) in the city at the pharmacy where her father worked. While Paul wants nothing to do with her, nor does much of anybody else, except for a group of goth punks she meets in the forest at a rave en route to the city, she eventually grows on others so as not be consigned to a life alone.
Political correctness isn’t something Balasko concerns herself with, nor is a real cinematic style, to go by “Demi-Souer,” which is far cruder in all respects than her previous directorial efforts such as “A French Gigolo” and “French Twist” that have made it across the pond. Yet as obvious and occasionally tasteless in its depiction of mental disability as the film can be at times, Balasko never breaks character as the comic set pieces spiral further and further out of control and even slips in a sly commentary on the way society can diminish the elderly as much as the young.
Naturally, Paul’s position as a pharmacist comes into play as the film wears on, adding the influence of barbiturates into the mix, which is exploited less for its comic potential than as a function of the plot with Blanc never entirely able to become more than a stuffy straight man for Balasko to torment. Still, if Balasko has you under her spell, “Demi-Souer” proves to be a slight but enjoyably silly confection.
“Demi-Souer” opens in New York at the Village East on February 7th.