The Château

The Chateau

USA, 2001. Rated R. 91 minutes.

Cast: Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Sylvie Testud, Didier Flamand, Maria Verdi, Philippe Nahon, Donal Logue
Writers: Jesse Peretz, based on an idea by Thomas Bidegain
Music: Patrik Bartosch, Nathan Larson, Nina Persson
Cinematographer: Tom Richmond
Producers: Scott Macaulay, Robin O'Hara
Director: Jesse Peretz


Grade: D+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

A   t the Los Angeles premiere of The Château, director Jesse Peretz stated that he had not been sure he could even cut his footage into a feature-length film. It shows. Though only 91 minutes in length, The Château grows increasingly tiresome as it milks the same gags too often and becomes overdramatic for a light comedy while stumbling around for a conclusion.

The first thing one notices about The Château is its terrible visual quality. It is shot on digital video, which allegedly has a finer grain and more depth of field than film. Nothing about The Château seems digital. Instead, it appears to have be shot with a dirty camera on cheap 8mm film, transferred to a VHS tape, transferred from that VHS tape to another VHS tape, and another, and another, and then locked in a cabinet for 20 years. Perhaps director Jesse Peretz (First Love, Last Rites) was going for an arty, home-movie look, but even on a shoestring budget and allowing for efforts to be artistic, a film should look better than this grainy, fuzzy feature does.

One might be inclined to be forgiving, initially, as the first part of The Château works well. Graham (Paul Rudd of Clueless) and Rex (Romany Malco of TV's Level 9) are brothers who have just inherited an estate in rural France from an uncle they didn't even know they had. Paul Rudd near The ChateauApparently, the uncle didn't know he had nephews, either, because the servants are discombobulated by the brothers' arrival. The fact that the brothers differ somewhat in appearance (one is white while the other is black) adds to the servants' confusion. In addition, the dilapidated chateau turns out to be less than advertised, needing a mountain of expensive repairs the brothers cannot afford. They determine to sell, sending the servants into a blind panic.

So far, so good. Graham's misadventures with the French language are hilarious, particularly for anyone who knows even a smattering of French, though the subtitles do an adequate job of conveying his butchery. Rex's aggressive, urban attitude and style (which is all show) is less amusing in the unlikely context of the sleepy French countryside, but still effective. Also funny are the interactions between the Vegan, overpsychoanalyzed Graham and the angry Rex, whose irritable exchanges bespeak the kind of relationship that would not exist were they not brothers. The reason these elements work well is because Rudd and Malco deliver their lines like actors instead of comedians--with sincerity instead of irony--heightening the contrasts and incongruity of their behavior and making it real.

As much fun as the film has with the culture clash, it does not get close to its French characters or France in general. Rather than pursuing a theme of cultural understanding or efforts to save the estate, The Château increasingly focuses on Graham and Rex getting to know themselves better. The problem is that it forgets to be funny, and instead pursues a subplot involving Graham and Rex competing for the attentions of the maid Isabelle (Sylvie Testud), which has little to do with the main story. Whenever the film remembers that it's supposed be a comedy, it falls back onto more malapropisms by Graham and attitude from Rex. These devices wear increasingly thin, until The Château stops being funny and becomes just a bore.

The Château is based on kind of a cool idea, but Peretz didn't take it much beyond the idea stage. He inserted a couple odd characters into an odd situation, and, by his own admission, shot a bunch of footage hoping he'd find a movie somewhere within it. The Château would have been benefited from a sharper, cleaner script before it went in front of the camera. Not to mention a sharper, cleaner camera lens.

Review © August 2002 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2002 IFC Films. All Rights Reserved.

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