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The Closet

(2001) ** 1/2 R
84 min. Miramax. Director: Francis Veber. Cast: Daniel Auteuil, Gerard Depardieu, Thierry Lhermitte, Michele Laroque, Michel Aumont.

Le Placard (The Closet) is a typically high-concept French farce--of exactly the type that Hollywood regularly cannibalizes for English-language remakes. In this case, that might not be such a bad idea, as the concept is the film's biggest strength. The closet in question reverses reality--what would life be like for a heterosexual man who had to hide his sexuality from everyone?

Daniel Auteuil plays sad sack Pignon, a rubber company accountant with a perennially hangdog expression. He is barely tolerated and mostly ignored by most everyone in his life: his co-workers, the ex-wife he still pines for, and his teenage son. When he gets wind of his impending dismissal, Pignon finds himself at a complete loss, until a neighbor proposes a solution: pretend to be gay. In an ostensibly more politically correct world, the management will scramble to avoid the appearance of discrimination.

Writer-director Francis Veber, fresh off his success with The Dinner Game, mines this idea for a series of humorous situations--The Closet is truly a situation comedy--but in terms of dialogue, the punch lines are few. The best follows a visual gag that sends Pignon's boss (and a tour group) into a tizzy. Another potent visual gag finds Auteuil trapped in a silly PR stunt.

Pignon is ably supported by veteran Jean Rochefort as the boss, Michèlle Laroque as his suspicious workmate, and Michel Aumont as his crafty but warm-hearted neighbor, but, unsurprisingly, Gerard Depardieu steals the show. Depardieu plays the bigoted co-worker whose colleagues decide to have a little fun at his expense. Convincing him that his job is at stake if he doesn't play nice with the "gay" man, his buddies goad him until he's courting the baffled Pignon.

These scenes pack a punch that compensates for others that fall curiously slack or seem to have missed opportunities for comic exploitation. At a fleet 84 minutes, The Closet seems in a hurry to move from one situation to the next to a palpably rushed finale. Nevertheless, The Closet is an entertaining, affecting, and thought-provoking comedy.

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