(Bars, Luc Moullet, France, 1984)


Luc Moullet’s gag-comedies, with their stunning economy of means, owe something to Jacques Tati – but they have a harsher, more political undertone.


All the neurotic eccentricities of the people in his films (some of the most memorable incarnated by Moullet himself), all the minute, daily, compulsive obsessions with counting, collecting, ordering, or figuring out a routine, arise in response to the same, monumental object: a near-fascistic Society of Control that places prison-like constraints around every aspect of work and leisure in Western countries.


Barres, which is among Moullet’s best (and easily accessible online), is literally about society’s bars – those that appear at entranceways in the French métro system to regulate and police customer traffic. Moullet’s way is thus clear: he will list (in charmingly handwritten titles), and demonstrate in rapid comic vignettes, the dozens of ways in which wily citizens manage to sneak through this ever-renewed, ever-more complex system of state-enforced discipline and punishment – without paying. 


Everything proves useful in this solemn mission: chewing gum, string, auto spare parts, leaping and kicking skills.


There is no plot as such in Barres, only a parade of subversive, anarchic gestures, performed alike by young and old, hippies and professionals … and occasionally interrupted by the corporate billboards devised to discourage people from such “stupidities” (the same Franju-like posters portraying humans as animals can be glimpsed in Leos Carax’s feature debut of the same year, Boy Meets Girl). 


Against this official State view, Moullet posits a counter-image of the French nation and its culture: cheating the bar reconciles classes, promotes better health, and – in a glorious comic apotheosis – constitutes a veritable Olympic sports event, as seemingly dozens of bodies cram together at once through the turnstiles to circumvent the System.

© Adrian Martin March 2007

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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