Francis Veber is probably better known for his writing than for his direction — and best known for having penned La Cage aux Folles, which spawned the U.S. remake The Birdcage. (Hollywood seems to like remaking Veber’s scripts and films, having annexed The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe, The Toy, Les Comperes and now, it seems, his Le Placard, which is to be retooled for a doubtless-inferior U.S. version.)
La Chevre (The Goat, aka Knock on Wood) was only Veber’s second directorial effort. It nonetheless marked his real breakthrough, thanks to the inspired teaming of Pierre Richard and Gerard Depardieu — and a brilliantly simple concept that doesn’t stand up to (or ask for) very much scrutiny.
When the cosmically clumsy daughter (Coryne Varbit) of a French industrialist (Michel Robin) is kidnapped in Mexico, traditional detective methods (practiced by Depardieu’s character) fail, and the company psychiatrist (Andre Valardy) comes up with a notion that can only be called screwy. It’s his contention that a gumshoe as luckless and accident-prone as the girl is the only hope for finding her. Enter Richard, who, much to the chagrin of Depardieu, becomes the “official” investigator. From there the film chugs along as a series of great gags based on this concept — while a weird, and finally touching, camaraderie develops between the leads.
Not brilliant filmmaking, but it’s perfectly serviceable to the story. Which is as it should be.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[Pack Memorial Library's French-comedy series will screen La Chevre on Wednesday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. in the library's Lord Auditorium, with an introduction by host Peter Loewer.]