Slack Bay (Ma Loute) Review

IMDB link:

If I had to summarise this movie in 25 words or less, I’d only need 3: “What just happened?” I’d like to preface this review by saying that I’m normally pretty good at following what goes on during a movie. If I’m watching with another person, I might say something like, “Why did she just do that?!” in exasperation, but I can keep track of the plot and the characters pretty easily. Despite that, I spent nearly the entire movie thinking to myself, “What just happened?”

The reason why I thought it would be like Hot Fuzz is because it is described as being set in a small beachside town where tourists mysteriously disappear. Incompetent police officers begin to investigate. That’s about where the similarity ends.

So the audience finds out why the people are disappearing probably 15 minutes into the movie, which is probably the first big “What just happened?” moment. The rest of the movie is spent watching the investigators bumble towards the truth, and watching the various characters and their little side plots. There is twist after twist, and the movie seems like it’s just going to create one mystery after another, until about halfway through, you get a nice little breather for a touching romantic sub-plot. But not long after you’ve caught your breath, you are hit with another “What just happened?” moment.

I would like to add that maybe some of the humour was lost on me because of the cultural difference. There was a group of people that seemed to laugh at parts of the movie that nobody else laughed at, but it might also have been because they were drunk, so it’s hard to tell. Also, some of the humour leaned towards the slapstick side, which isn’t really my preferred style of humour, though some of it I did find funny.

The pacing was actually really good. I saw some people leaving during the movie, and I can kinda understand why, as it does not stop to explain anything, so you just need to leave your questions behind and go along for the ride. I enjoyed it, as it felt really engaging having so many mysteries, as it kept me interested in the movie, but there were short comedic breaks between each punch, which is why I thought the pacing is good.

I don’t know any of the actors, so I don’t know if they’re famous or anything, but I thought the casting was pretty good. The town locals had a very hillbilly look about them, and were quite distinct from the posh tourists.

I enjoyed the movie, even though I left it feeling a bit like this:

And judging by the comments of the people around me, I wasn’t the only one. Actually, after I left the cinema, I burst out laughing, but it was a pretty evil, Joker-esque kind of laugh. I couldn’t stop myself. I was doubled over on the footpath laughing. I don’t even know why.

If you are looking for a deep mystery-thriller / comedy movie, this is not for you. If you are the kind of person who doesn’t like things that don’t make sense, or plot threads that are left hanging, this movie is definitely not for you. If you are looking for a light, feel-good comedy, this movie is not for you. If you’d like to see a movie that is difficult to place in a box, that defies a lot of the typical tropes, has an off-beat sense of humour, a little bit of gore / nudity, and 122 minutes of minutes of crazy, I’d recommend this film. Would I watch it again, maybe to see if a second viewing helped answer questions (I doubt it), but I definitely wouldn’t watch it a third time. Do I regret watching it? Not at all.

Oh, I should add that from a practicing French perspective, it’s probably not the best. There’s a lot of “bogan” / hillbilly talk, and quite a lot of the characters have mumbled / slurred speech, where even other characters aren’t able to understand them.

With reference to film techniques, one of the other points I picked up from Every Frame a Painting is that sometimes emotion is better conveyed through facial expressions rather than speech. I think the romance sub-plot had very few actual lines exchanged between the characters, and a lot of it was done through glances, but you still got the impression that they were falling for each other. Other little things, like the posh characters not wanting to interact with the “lowly” characters was conveyed pretty well through small gestures, like waving at someone to avoid having to shake their hand, or pointed glances to say, “How dare you try and serve me food from my right side?!”

This movie does very little hand-holding, which actually made it seem shorter than it actually was. I didn’t expect the credits rolling at all – though to be fair, that’s also because my mind was still trying to process what had just happened in the last 2 hours.

Will start the spoiler-filled review under this line…

Turn back now if you don’t want to be spoiled.

Last chance.

There were so many unresolved plot points.

Thread #1: The first big punch is the fact that the tourists are disappearing because they are being killed and eaten by the Brufort family (Ma Loute’s family). This is never resolved. They don’t seem to get caught, and Ma Loute seems to have some weird cannibalistic urge, as a couple of times in the movie, he seemed to growl: the first time he did it, he ran off, presumably to avoid killing Billie. The second time, he ended up biting a girl who wasn’t introduced. Is the family full of cannibals? The other members didn’t seem to have the problem, although it looked like there was a huge gap between Ma Loute and his three younger brothers, so maybe they haven’t manifested yet, and maybe his parents have learned to control it. Is the growling just an indication of his sexual desire, as the first time, it looked like he and Billie were going to go at it, and the second time, he had his head between that unnamed girl’s boobs?

Thread #2: Was Billie physically a male or female? At the start, I felt so confused, but I thought, OK, maybe this is some artsy French thing, it’s probably not important to the plot and they’re trying to make a point, so I’m just going to roll with it. But then characters started commenting on it and it became relevant to the plot. Inspector Machin specifically said he was a “lad that’s a lass” (didn’t hear what he said in French, one of his character’s traits is that he seems to mumble everything). Billie is first shown dressed as a girl with long hair, and she was with her two female cousins (who are always referred to as girls, and always seen in dresses), and that is how she looks when she meets Ma Loute. But when Billie’s uncle arrives, he is dressed as a boy with short hair, and I can’t remember if it was the uncle, or the guy who owns the house (Billie’s other uncle) that comments, “Ah, Billie is a boy again!”

Ma Loute says to Billie, “Are you dressed as a boy?” to which he replies, “Of course”. After Ma Loute transports him across the bay, he gives Ma Loute a kiss on the cheek, and they exchange a moment.

Then the next time we see her, she’s dressed as a girl with long hair. She passes the inspectors, and Machin comments that it’s definitely a lad dressed as a lass, but the other inspector looks uncertain and is convinced either that she’s a girl after all, or that it’s an entirely different person. Ma Loute says, “Ah, it’s my pretty Billie”.

Billie’s mum arrives at the house (which belongs to her brother), and calls Billie “Mon Billie”, indicating that he’s a boy. The subtitles translate it as “My son Billie”.

However, Ma Loute continues to treat Billie as though she’s a girl. All the other characters look at Billie strangely. Oh, but Ma Loute’s younger brothers say, “Elle est belle” (she is beautiful, the male equivalent being “Il est beau“).

During the procession scene, Ma Loute says to Billie, “My love”, and I’m 90% sure I heard him say “mon amour“, which I thought indicated that Ma Loute knew that she was a he, but I just looked it up, and because amour begins with a vowel, “mon” which is the masculine possessive, is used for both males and females.

Billie goes to meet Ma  Loute again, this time dressed as a boy with long hair (which we find out is a wig, although you could kinda tell that from previous scenes as you could see the shaved head underneath, but this scene made it explicit). The inspector sees him again, and comments that he’s dressed as a boy again to which she replies, “I’m a girl dressed as a boy.”

But when Ma Loute carries her across the river, he says in surprise, “You have balls?! You conned me!” and drops her. So I kinda feel like that answers the question of whether Billie is a boy or a girl, but after that, it is never mentioned again, and perhaps hinted that he is a hermaphrodite (maybe I’m reading too much into it) – though Ma Loute does dump him. Here’s the bit that got me though: the person that plays Billie is female. I guess that doesn’t really mean anything in itself.

Thread #3: Why are people flying into the air?! While looking for her brother, who has gone missing, Isabelle walks out onto a cliff that overlooks the sea, and has a great view. Then we see her view changing, and see that she’s actually flying into the air. After it ends, it almost looks like it was her imagination, as she’s back where she started, overlooking the sea, but the reactions from the inspectors and André confirm that she actually was flying. Her flying isn’t mentioned again, but we see Aude flying when she discovers the Billie has gone missing, and she runs down the steps, with none of  her feet actually touching the steps. Then right at the end Inspector Machin floats into the air, the “foreshadowing” being that he felt bloated earlier, and he was so invested in this investigation that he took off into the air. The very last part of the movie features the characters chasing him, because he’s floating away, only for him to be saved because another officer shot 3 bullets into him which caused him to deflate, complete with the balloon fart-y sound. The movie ends not long after that, so all of the flying is never completely explained, though one character claims it was the Virgin Mary.

Thread #4: What is with Aude and André and the entire Van Peteghem family? OK, if you haven’t seen the movie, it opens with André and Isabelle travelling to their holiday home in Calais, with their two daughters Blanche and Gaby, and their niece Billie. Then Isabelle’s brother, Christian, drops by, and André seems to refer to him as his cousin, but also his brother-in-law. At first I wrote off, as André seems a bit slow on the uptake. Then André’s sister, Aude, also joins them, and we find out she is Billie’s mother. There is no mention of Billie’s father until halfway through the movie when Aude and André are talking and she says she doesn’t know who the father is. It seems like it’s a typical case of teen pregnancy gone wrong, only we find out the reason why she doesn’t know who the father is is because it could be either her brother, André, or their father!

The inspectors comment on the weird fact that André refers to Christian as his brother-in-law sometimes, and his cousin other times, and André explains that it’s because he married Christian’s sister, who is also his first cousin, once removed. And he explains that that’s just the way things are in when you’re from the North. Christian also seems a bit slow on the uptake, and so this kinda explains things, but just raises so many more questions.

Anyway, I sort of think that the discussion with Aude and André hints that maybe Billie is a hermaphrodite as Aude says, “What did the union of our blood create?” And none of the Van Peteghems seem to find Billie’s constant gender changes odd, though it might just be that they’ve had 15 (?) years to get used to it.

Thread #5: What is with the cannibalism and what happened to the murder investigation?! So we discover that the Bruforts are cannibals, and you see all the kids eating raw human meat. The investigators are hot on their trail. When Christian, Billie and Aude go missing, there’s a big search with a heap of officers. But then the three of them are found (because Ma Loute let them go) and suddenly everyone is celebrating and that’s the end? What happened to the fat parasol lady? How did Ma Loute / his dad kidnap the nudist woman without her dog attacking them, and during the one minute the inspectors looked away to give her some privacy? How did their neighbours never comment on the fact that the Bruforts had blood all over their faces, and were eating the carcasses in plain sight?!

Thread #6: Which brings me to the previously mentioned unnamed girl. She sees them eating the humans, and even comes to talk to Ma Loute while his face is covered in blood. He asks if she wants him to eat her, which technically could have been a sexual comment, but she just walks off. She does not partake in the cannibalism. Is she their sister? It would explain the large age gap between Ma Loute and the next brother. But then she’s also seen cuddling Ma Loute and it’s implied that after he dumps Billie, he goes back to her. I guess given the other stuff that has happened in this movie, you can’t really rule out incest.

Even now, having processed the movie a bit more, I have no idea what I just watched.

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One Response to Slack Bay (Ma Loute) Review

  1. Pingback: The Yearly With Fodder | :|

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