Le nain rouge [The Red Dwarf] (1998)

One of the random foreign films I was more hesitant to pick up, even the title reeking of that esoteric odour that is the “arthouse film”–said with upturned nose, and not referring to anything like a comedy, unless it’s some strange dadaist nonsense. So it was with trepidation that I decided to give it a whirl while dealing with massive amounts of free time.

Jean-Yves Thual is Lucien L’Hotte, a dwarf who works in a legal office. Our first experience of his life is sitting alone at the end of a workday, finishing typing something as a maid approaches, Lucien nervously stiffening when she comes near his desk and attempts to make small talk. He drops the letter at the front manager’s desk and then makes his way out. As he leaves, attempting to mail a letter in a mailbox a little tall for someone of such diminutive stature, a girl walks up and asks if he is a goblin (my French is terrible, so this may or may not be paraphrasing in the subtitles, of course). He smiles (thankfully–this isn’t going to be a “woe is the dwarf’s lot in the world” movie, at least not through and through) and tells her he is just a “Lucien.” The girl, Isis (Dyna Gauzy), works for a circus (the Circus d’Urbino) which is set up right outside Lucien’s office, and begins to take fondly to Lucien, seeing him as a sort of guardian angel rather than just a small person. Lucien comes in the next day to his assignment, having written a dirty letter intended to guarantee a divorce for Paola Bendini (Anita Ekberg), he goes to her home to read it to her, in hopes of sealing her divorce with “Bob” (Arno Chevrier), who is a sort of buffoon, with a hat with his name, a goofy demeanour and a stupid sense of humour, referring to himself constantly as “Bob.” He manages to seduce Paola though, beginning and intense carnal relationship with her, but unintentionally reviving her previously failing marriage. Jilted, the frustrated L’Hotte decides to win her back, but finding himself out of options, ends up instead in the Circus d’Urbino, there attempting to gain the respect denied him by bosses who were “doing his father a favour” by employing him, a woman who used him sexually for the sheer novelty and a world that in general looked down on him for his genetics.

I suppose, then, yes, this was indeed a “woe is the dwarf’s lot in the world” movie, but it was addressed smartly, and not with an overemphasis. Lucien is not a pure victim, though he’s definitely sympathetic, even when taking extreme measures against those who have wronged him. His relationship with Isis is not a purely positive one–often leaving her alone, crying and ignored while he finds himself. It’s not filmed in black and white, but it is shown as such (it was desaturated, so the booklet tells me, to remove the “bland” colours of everyday life, director Yvan Le Moine apparently said) and it is served by it. While I am inevitably curious as to what the film looked like to the naked eye, the black and white feel is appropriate to the film. The dialogue and style of filming, while definitely coming from a European mindset (and bearing tinges of that “arthouse” mindset, doubtless), are not off-puttingly pretentious, instead seeming to edge more toward naturalistic approach. I’ve read that it’s slow, but most know I’m quite vulnerable to such things, especially in films one might label pretentious in that obscure style I refer to. I didn’t feel that at all, being truly interested in the eventual outcome of Lucien’s life and ways, and very curious to see how they played out. It was a good little film, and not one I regret seeing, and could definitely see myself re-watching.

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