Pretend-moi

"Come out, come out, whoever you are," in a new French farce.

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François Pignon is so resigned to his nonentity status in life that when he gets shoved out of the frame of his company’s annual group photo, he can’t quite bring himself to protest. Why bother? His wife has left him; his teenage son thinks he’s a total bore; his fellow workers barely notice his existence — he’s already out of the picture. And when the coup de grace of forced unemployment via downsizing arrives, there’s little he can do except to contemplate jumping off his sad little balcony.

But this is a farce not a tragedy, specifically a farce written and directed by Francis Veber (La Cage Aux Folles, The Dinner Game), and so François’ leap into the void is halted by a friendly neighbor who also comes up with the idea that if the forlorn fellow were to pretend he was gay then his employers, fearing a discrimination suit, would be less likely to let him go (it helps that his employers are condom manufacturers and beholden to their most loyal constituency). Aided by some doctored photos, which seem to show him in an ass-grabbing mood in a leather bar, François assumes his new identity in the same nondescript manner with which he approaches everything. After all, his neighbor tells him, he needn’t change his behavior since people’s imagination will do that for him.

The Closet would be as light as a soufflé if it weren’t for two central performances, Daniel Auteuil’s François and Gérard Depardieu as his expansively macho co-worker Félix. Auteuil gives his character just enough depth, with an undertow of sadness, to be able to bring some genuine feeling to a slate-cleaning speech he delivers to his ex-wife toward the film’s end, while Depardieu’s Félix evolves from a macho cliché to an original creation — once he cracks, overwhelmed by his unexpected feelings for the newly gay François, he spends the rest of the movie with the little blissed-out smile of someone who’s entered a strange new world. It’s a lovely performance in a very funny film.

Showing exclusively at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple, W of Telegraph). Call 248-542-0180.

Richard C. Walls writes about the arts for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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