Published Aug 01, 2001The Closet is a totally enjoyable light comedy from France. Francis Veber's (The Dinner Game) script and direction manage to achieve sweetness without sentimentality and humour without overkill, making The Closet a welcome change from much of the dreck that usually emerges from Hollywood at this time of year. The story features the ubiquitous French actor Daniel Auteuil (Jean de Florette, The Widow of Saint Pierre) as Pignon, an exceedingly mild-mannered accountant who overhears that he is about to be fired from the latex manufacturing company where he works. Already despondent over his ex-wife and teenage son who avoid him as much as possible, losing his job almost puts Pignon over the edge. Fortunately, his neighbour steps in with a plan to save his job. They anonymously send the company president doctored photos of Pignon in dancing with men at gay bars, so firing him would look like discrimination. Pignon's boring life suddenly becomes a lot more interesting as he responds to everyone's perception of him changing.
It would be fairly easy to handle this material either offensively or didactically, but Veber avoids both by using a light comic touch while not ignoring the homophobia still rampant in French society. The film is not, nor does it try to be, a searing examination at what it means to be gay in the contemporary workplace. It is rather a fun look at how others' perceptions can change the way an individual perceives himself, in this case for his own good. While this is obviously not earth-shattering material, the execution is deft and pleasurable to watch.
The excellent cast is a who's who of French cinema. In addition to Auteuil, it features Michel Aumont (A Sunday in the Country) as the neighbour with the plan, Michele Leroque (Ma Vie En Rose) as Pignon's supervisor who is suspicious of his new identity, Thierry Lhermitte (The Dinner Game) as a colleague who uses Pignon unwittingly to try to teach a homophobic co-worker a lesson, and Gerard Depardieu as the company homophobe whose world is rocked by Pignon. With all the crappy North American films that Depardieu takes, it's easy to forget that he is actually a very good actor, and his amazing performance in this film really shows off his comedic skills as well as his ability to be subtle and even touching. However, it is Daniel Auteuil's Pignon who is really responsible for the movie's success. The entire film rests on Pignon's subtle and gradual transformation and how it effects those around him, and Auteuil puts forth the right combination of comedy and pathos to make this entirely believable.