Directed by: Francis Veber
Starring: Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Michelle Laroque, Michel Aumont, Jean Rochefort
Writer/director Francis Veber, who gained international recognition in 1978 with La Cage aux Folles, has cooked up another engaging comedy with its heart in the right place and something on its mind. The Closet details the story of a drab latex-factory accountant, Francois Pignon (Daniel Auteuil, The Widow of Saint Pierre), who's about to be fired in a staff reduction. Francois' life is no bed of roses to begin with -- he's still in love with an ex-wife who only married him on the rebound, his 17-year-old son has no use for him, he's a total non-entity at the factory (even getting pushed out of the annual company group photo) -- and this proves the last straw. Poised to end it all by jumping out the window, Francois is stopped by his new neighbor, Belone (Michel Aumont), who notes that he's going to fall onto the roof of his car and damage it if he jumps. Actually, this is merely a ruse to start talking to the suicidal Francois, and soon the older man comes up with a plan for the hapless accountant to keep his job: They'll start the rumor (with the help of some doctored photographs) that Francois is gay, and management will be afraid to fire him for fear not only of a sexual-discrimination charge, but a boycott of their primary product (condoms) by the gay community. The ruse works -- and almost too well, when the ultra-macho Felix Santini (Gerard Depardieu) tries to become friends with Francois, and becomes a little too interested in him, ironically affording the previously dreary accountant the one thing he has never really had, a life. Often very funny, The Closet works best because it's never less than believably human and insightful. Worried that he can't pull off the characterization of a gay man, Francois finds himself counseled by Belone to just be himself, and that others will read the characteristics they choose into his actions. Of course, this works perfectly. Every move he makes -- even though no different from his previous behavior -- takes on deep significance for his co-workers. The results are not always pleasant. Two of his rougher co-workers mistake his watching for his estranged son at the high school for him cruising schoolboys, and beat him up in a fit of self-righteous butchness. The film is laced with often-moving ironies. Sure, Belone is helping him because he feels sorry for Francois -- but also as a kind of revenge. "Twenty years ago I was fired for the very reason that's now saving your job," he reveals, adding, "We evolve." Being outed as gay through his PR appearance for the company on a float in the Gay Pride parade (wearing a ridiculous condom hat), Francois is no longer boring to his son, who suddenly wants to spend time with his dad! Clocking in at a brisk 84 minutes, Veber's film is a delightful souffle that is also interestingly in tune with cinema history. The condom factory is clearly modeled on both the phonograph factory in Rene Clair's 1932 A Nous La Liberte and the factory in Chaplin's 1936 Modern Times (the film's main and end title-music very deliberately evokes Chaplin's score for the latter), and there's more than a little of the great French comic Jacques Tati lingering around the edges here. But in the end, it's really Veber's film all the way -- and a charming, warm and entertaining film it is.