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Foreign Film Review: Buffet Froid (1979) April 22, 2009

Posted by masterj27 in Books and Movies.
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I’ve mentioned to some in our blogging community that I’m taking a class on French cinema this semester. It’s pretty much my favorite class, and while studying for a quiz on this film this morning, I was inspired to share a little about this movie and hopefully inspire some of you to go out and watch it. The film is called Buffet Froid, which literally translates to “Cold Cuts” in English. SPOILER ALERT: to appropriately analyze this film I will have to spill the beans on the plot line!

Bertrand Blier is not your typical director, in essence he is a non-conformist. He wouldn’t even conform during the French New Wave movement, which characterized by challenging the status quo in terms of film making! Blier is known as a provocateur, a proponent of controversial subject matter and atypical filming styles. The films made by Blier usually reinforce slogans from the May 1968 period of France, a time when traditional society and morality were put into question and there was a substantial change in society. If you haven’t already noticed, this guy didn’t really like customs and conventions; he was more into shaking things up. The protagonists of his films were usually rebels with eccentric personalities, and this film is no different.

The film centers around the life of Alphonse Tram (played by iconic French actor Gerard Dépardieu), an unemployed man with a strange life characterized by drinking wine and confusion on the meaning of life. In the first couple of scenes, Tram tries to start a conversation with a man on the Metro on how he thinks about killing people from time to time, only to discover that his acquaintance is killed in the scene thereafter. Knife in stomach with death slowly approaching, the man shows indifference towards his impending doom, is in no sign of pain (aside from lying on the floor with a knife in his stomach), and actually tells Tram to leave him alone so he can die in peace. Tram goes home, the only apartment in the whole complex that is being used, to his wife and they have a pointless conversation about their lives. Soon after, they discover that someone has moved in above them: a police inspector by the name of Inspector Morvandieu (played by the director’s father Bernard Blier). The inspectors apartment is littered with crates on the only sign of furniture is two small crates next to a larger crate with plates, glasses, and a bottle of wine that resembles an odd dining room table and chairs. After a drink, Tram heads home. He discovers later that his wife has been killed and tells the nonchalant inspector about the situation and asks Tram to identify the body but thinks nothing of the situation thereafter… he says something like he “is not at work at the moment”. A couple of minutes later in the film, a man knocks on the door who confesses to be the killer of Tram’s wife (known simply as The Assassin, played by Jean Carmet). He tells Tram of his frustration with women and how he has sudden urges to strangle them. Tram lets him in and they share a drink and have a talk. We have now been introduced to the three main protagonists of the film. The rest of the film is quite absurd in nature: the Assassin believes a bulky man to be a women and tries to sleep with him, the inspector reveals his fear of Brahms and music in general, and the trio are hired by a man to kill someone who turns out to be the contractor himself. In the end, Tram, the inspector, and the Assassin go to the  country where they come upon a hired killer who is looking for a man named Alphonse Tram. Tram tells the hitman that the Assassin is named Alphone Tram, and the hitman promptly shoots him. The inspector and Tram take the hitman “hostage” and are picked up by a woman in a car whom they’ve never met. After they run out of gas in the middle of a bridge, the hitman attempts to escape but jumping off the bridge into a creek (no problem!). After repeatedly trying to shoot the man with a pistol (who seems to be a mile away) they get in a boat to try and chase him. They discover in the end that the woman who picked them up is the daughter of the man killed on the subway, and in typical French fashion everyone dies at the end of the movie (except for the woman, who is seen rowing peacefully as the credits begin to roll).

If that sounded a little bizarre, it’s because it was meant to be. I must admit that this is one of the strangest movies I have ever watched, but after a little analysis in class, I discovered why it is so weird. After we watched a different movie in this class I’m taking, a student raised a very good point that I’ve tried to take to heart. She said, “At first I tried to make sense of the film as it was happening, but I realized that was impossible. So I let myself go.” What she was saying was that she didn’t try to interpret every action and every scene as it came along. This is when I developed my own philosophy for watching films in this class. I let things happen and I try to make sense of everything at the end of the film. The great thing is, I discovered that maybe the movie wasn’t meant to make sense. Maybe it’s a ridiculous set of vignettes that are meant to challenge traditional standards and ways of film making (remember challenging the status quo?).

Anyway, back to the movie at hand… The main reason I wanted to share this movie with all of you is because there is one aspect about it that I find intriguing. In what spectrum in human life do things not necessarily make sense, there is an absence of time, fears take strikingly human and real forms, and there is no real message at the end? Nightmares. This film can be seen as a giant nightmare where Alphonse’s fears are realized (including his scary thoughts about killing people and how he convinces himself that he was the one who murdered the man in the metro). A lot of information is thrown at the viewer, but none of it really makes sense and a lot of questions are unanswered. It’s kind of hard to describe but I would really encourage you to watch the movie from this perspective and see how cool it really is.

Thanks to Professor Tilden Daniels for some of the information in this blog and a great lecture on a fantastic film!