Written and Directed by Ruth Pickett
Starring Anna Koval, Sophie Pelham, Ed Aczel, Michael Roche
Short Film Review by George Nash
Aspiring young actress Cressida takes her job very seriously. In an attempt to prove she has what it takes to land a role in an esteemed Beauty and the Beast production, she stars in her very own version that takes the tale back to its literary roots by giving the story a French makeover in both language and style. Cue the hilarity, buffoonery, and many a sacré bleu…
The concept of a film within a film is nothing new. From Wes Craven’s New Nightmare to Be Kind Rewind, such works are often played out for either laughs or screams – or perhaps a little of both; but the idea of a self-reflexive, tongue-in-cheek poke at your own art form has been a running gag in mainstream cinema for decades. Writer/Director Ruth Pickett’s La Belle Folie, by its very construction, finds a further, untapped crevasse in such a narrative style, though: amateur filmmakers making a film about amateur filmmaking.
Anna Koval plays Cressida, who in turn wants to play Belle. From very early on, she’s clearly the only one who takes this acting lark seriously. The rest – a makeshift supporting cast and crew consisting of her best friend, her dad, and his mate – couldn’t really care less. Constantly fluffing their lines, appearing in the background of shots they’re not supposed to be in, and bumbling about in all manner of clumsiness, every member of Pickett’s cast is clearly having a ball, even if the characters they play are really having a beast.
There’s a quirky randomness to Pickett’s writing from the outset; making for a wonderfully whimsical, gag-tastic 15-minute short. There’s a character who wants nothing more than to shoehorn in a farfetched Beauty and the Beast/Godfather crossover; another whose performance “sounds like the Elephant man”; and, one for all you hawkeyed Movie Mistakers out there, a boom mic operator whose on-screen presence is felt far more than it should be.
Stylistically, the use of black and white, lighting, and cigarettes add a nice layer of French-cinematic pastiche; and Pickett’s evident research and visual attentiveness pays off in moments of subtle humour that extend beyond the more expected and obvious slapstick. The performers also, somewhat ironically, each give suitably scene-chewing turns as they commendably tackle the often-underestimated difficulty of having to act acting badly.
Where La Belle Folie occasionally falls down, however, is in the moments where it tries that touch too hard to force those laughs, and such instances often come rather too signposted. But, what it lacks in unpredictability, it makes up for in understanding that conventional comedy done well doesn’t necessarily mean less funny.
La Belle Folie is charming, well written, and slightly bonkers – now how do you say all that in French?