Having scripted such popular film comedies as
Le Grand blond avec une chaussure noire
(1973), Francis Veber made an impressive directorial debut with Le
, a well-judged social satire which starred Pierre Richard, one of the most
popular comic actors in France. The film - which is probably Veber's most overtly
political - takes a humorous look at the way employees can end up being subjugated by
their powerful employers, effectively becoming toys to be bought, abused and later discarded
on a whim. The film probably had far more impact when it was released in the mid-1970s,
when France was in the midst of a period of social and political unease and high unemployment.
However, the portrayal of a rich businessman as someone who heartlessly plays with people's
lives for his own amusement is something which still strikes a chord, so the film remains
highly relevant, and consequently very funny.
For a first film, Veber does an excellent job. Whilst Le
doesn't quite match up to the standard of some of his later films - for example,
Dîner de cons
(1998) - it is still a hugely entertaining and thought-provoking
piece. There's an unforgettable performance from Michel Bouquet, playing the apparently
soulless Rambal-Cochet with chilling realism, although a note of conscience is just detectable
in a few scenes. Pierre Richard is surprisingly restrained in this portrayal of
Veber's recurring hapless hero "F.P.", and the film is better for it. Rather than
going for quick and easy laughs (as happens in some of his less intelligent comedies),
Richard's performance here is far more thoughtful and compassionate, an indication that
beneath that zany comic exterior there lies an actor of real talent.
of Francis Veber's films, Le Jouet
in America. The Toy
(1982), directed by
Richard Donner and starring Richard Pryor and Jackie Gleason, is entertaining fare but
it has neither the irony nor true human feeling that makes the French original so likeable.
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