An extended sitcom

Take a vacation from reality with Barbecue, a 98-minute French film directed by Eric Lavaine, with Lambert Wilson, Sophie Duez. In theaters now.

A scene from Barbecue. (photo credit: Courtesy)
A scene from Barbecue.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you like movies where good-looking French people eat fabulous meals, stay at sumptuous vacation homes, wear tailored clothes and argue with each other, then you’ll enjoy Barbecue, an inconsequential dramedy directed by Eric Lavaine.
It plays like an extended sitcom episode, about a group of well-to-do friends who met in business school more than 20 years ago and still do everything together. The movie is narrated by Antoine (Lambert Wilson, who starred in last year’s Bicycling with Moliere). In the first scene, he suffers a heart attack while competing in a race, and then tells us what preceded the heart attack and what followed it.
Antoine is charming, vain and not particularly ambitious, the scion of a family that owns a pharmaceutical business, where he works and feels that he is not taken seriously by his father and siblings. He is casually unfaithful to his wife, Vero (Sophie Duez), a competent, no-nonsense doctor, and he obsesses about getting (or rather, looking) older. Out on a date with one of the girls he picks up, he won’t put on his reading glasses to look at the menu and ends up ordering what the young woman has picked – a predictably unappetizing choice.
But that’s the only meal in the film that won’t make your mouth water. Every other time anyone sits down at a table, something that contains butter, red meat, chocolate or some other delicious and decadent ingredient appears instantly. The wine they drink is described in detail by its vintage and year, so oenophiles will have something to drool over as well.
The food and wine should be credited along with the actors because so much of the movie revolves around them.
The plot, such as it is, is pretty tame. Antoine has felt vaguely dissatisfied with his life preceding his heart attack, and that includes issues he has with his friends. Each of them has one predominant characteristic, just like in a sitcom.
Laurent (Lionel Abelanski) is having money problems due to a questionable investment he made but is too proud to tell anyone, even his wife (Valerie Crouzet).
Yves (Guillaume de Tonquedec) tends to drone on and on about everything. His wife (Lysiane Meis) is a bit formal and uptight. Olivia (Florence Foresti) is the life of the party, but sometimes she drinks a bit too much and gets really silly.
Her estranged husband, Baptiste (Franck Dubosc), who has split with her for unspecified reasons, keeps hanging around, hoping they can get back together. Jean- Mich (Jerome Commandeur), a younger guy who worked in the cafeteria of their business school, is a loner who has a job in a garage, which is convenient because he fixes all their cars.
The thread that connects what passes for a story is that Antoine decides, after his heart attack, that he should enjoy life. That’s not much of a surprise, but what causes trouble is the fact that he decides to take this resolve to another level by telling everyone exactly what he thinks of them all the time, which leads to hurt feelings.
You won’t be on the edge of your seat as you wait for him to learn the error of his ways.
However, watching this movie in Israel now is like a vacation from reality – and an enjoyable one – in a way I imagine the filmmakers never dreamed it would be. Just seeing the characters lounge by the pool in their spectacular vacation house is almost like taking a trip abroad. In the muchmaligned category of real-estate porn, this section of the movie should get a triple-X rating.
As eye-candy for women (and gay men), you couldn’t ask for better than Lambert Wilson. He’s like a French-speaking George Clooney, and it doesn’t really matter what lines he is saying because you don’t want the camera to cut away from his close ups. He can act, but here he doesn’t have to. I certainly look forward to seeing him play a real character in another film, but it’s nice to see him in any case.