Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte) is in a serious bind. The weekly dinner party he attends with his fellow Franco-yuppies is coming up and he hasn’t found an idiot. This is crucial since the point of these gatherings is that each man brings an unsuspecting sap and encourages him to talk about his interests. Afterward, the person who is judged to have brought the most appalling example of clueless stupidity is declared the winner (there’s no actual prize – hubris is its own reward).
Fortunately for Pierre, a friend finds an idiot at the last minute, a Ministry of Finance drone named François Pignon (Jacques Villeret, pictured at left), whose obsessive passion is building miniature architectural structures out of matchsticks. He carries pictures of these small wonders around with him in a portfolio and eagerly shows them to anyone who will listen (or pretend to) as he describes his labors in detail – over 300,000 matchsticks for the Eiffel Tower, he’ll say, with a pride that’s actually quite touching.
Pierre arranges to see the idiot François (and one of the charms of the film is that although he’s a sympathetic character François actually is an idiot) before the dinner – to assess him – but manages to throw his back out on a golf course just before the meeting. When he arrives back at his apartment his wife is not only unmoved by his sprained back but storms out – presumably forever – in a fit of pique over his continually callous dinner-game antics. At which point the hapless François arrives to find Pierre nearly immobile and definitely abandoned.
That’s just the premise. To reveal more would be unkind. Suffice it to say that The Dinner Game is a classic French farce, a very exacting form which depends upon a writer who is able to continually escalate the comic potential of misunderstandings while staying within the realm of possibilities. Game’s writer – and director – is Francis Veber and he has concocted the perfect soufflé – light and fluffy and purely pleasurable.
Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for the Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.