The Chateau (2001) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexuality
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Sylvie Testud, Didier Flamand, Philippe Nahon, Donal Logue
Director: Jesse Peretz
Screenplay: Jesse Peretz
Former music video and commercial director Jesse Peretz came up with the idea for The Chateau while directing in France and struggling with the language barrier. As someone not fluent with the French language, this produced comical results, as the difficulty of communicating created some humorously awkward moments, which he thought would make a good idea for a movie. Shot in about 10 days on a shoestring budget, The Chateau won't win any awards for technical brilliance, but it does deliver a few laughs, and good improvisational performances by the cast, especially Paul Rudd (Clueless, 200 Cigarettes) as the lead performer.
Paul Rudd and Romany Malco play two brothers, Graham and Allen "Rex" Glanville, Americans who travel to France after finding that they have inherited a chateau there after the death of their uncle. Upon their arrival, they find it hard to communicate with the hired help there, and further complications ensue when it is discovered that they are now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt for the upkeep to the place. Without much money or ability to generate any, they find that they may have to sell the place, but the servants aren't taking kindly to the plan that may see the sale of their lifelong home.
Being filmed entirely on a digital camera, The Chateau is one of the grainiest and cheapest looking theatrical releases you may have seen since The Blair Witch Project. It still manages to overcome its meager resources with some very funny observations and performances, mostly generating laughs by having two likeable and quirky Americans doing their best to understand and communicate with people that not only have no clue what they are trying to say, but pride in their country and way of life prevent them from offering much assistance. Much of the dialogue follows an obviously improvised script that probably changed from moment to moment, with a good many ad-libbed performances throughout.
It all plays out a little like a reality show with some scenes that you'd see mostly in sitcom situations, but the film keeps its sights modest, achieving them with easygoing simplicity. If you love independent films, especially ones with multi-lingual casts in a comedy where things get lost in translation, The Chateau is a worthwhile 90 minute excursion into absurdity. Oddly enough, there's a lot going on underneath the surface that speaks to the differences between France and the United States, but the film never has the pretense to preach. The cast and crew only seek to make you laugh, and I'd say they do a pretty good job of communicating with the audience in that regard, even if miscommunications were abundant among the two different sets of countrymen.
© 2003 Vince Leo