“2016” has by now become synonymous with celebrity deaths, including many actors and musicians.
Far away from Hollywood, 2016 began with the passing of Michel Galabru, and ended with the death of Claude Gensac. Thus, this year was framed by the deaths of two of Louis de Funès’s most famous collaborators. Claude Gensac always proved such an excellent companion piece for de Funès in his comedies. Taller than him, and with far more grace, she enabled him to stand out even more. And complementing de Funès’s roles as comically choleric patriarch, she was the perfect fit for roles such as the patiently suffering wife or the beset secretary. Likewise, Galabru as the stout, mild-mannered, and bumbling buffoon (often as an assistant or similar) was a great counterpoint to de Funès.
As a child, I always enjoyed the comedies starring Louis de Funès, or most of them. I have never found the time to revisit them, but I do know that de Funès was very influential for a younger generation of French comic actors, and many elements of his humour are timeless.
The son of Spanish immigrants, Louis Germain David de Funès de Galarza was a rather tiny man, with a head slightly too large, and with a unique face. He mostly played figures of authority who due to their personality were prone to fly into a violent rage, or rather: a series of violent rages. These comical rages were a speciality of de Funès, and it has been speculated that they contributed to the health problems that he suffered from later in life.
In 1971’s Jo, de Funès again plays that kind of person: a famous writer who is beset by a number of problems. Claude Gensac plays his patient and supportive wife, while Michel Galabru plays an incompetent builder.
I have had a DVD copy of this comedy lying around for some time now and yesterday decided that this might be the right time to watch it – for the first time in two decades. Jo is based on the play The Gazebo by Alec and Myra Coppel and as such is a remake of the 1959 US film version of that name. And it is one of the many strange coincidences that have marked 2016 that in this French remake, Claude Gensac played basically the same role that had been played by Debbie Reynolds in the earlier Hollywood version, and that Reynolds died exactly one day after Gensac.
The premise of Jo is quite simple, but as it is a farcical comedy of errors, its story becomes more and more complicated. Author and playwright Antoine Brisebard (Louis de Funès) is seriously considering to kill a devious blackmailer who has brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. But such a plan is a tall task even for a playwright’s mind, and with far too many people around the house and many an unforeseen event, Antoine is quickly losing control of the situation – and of his nerves.
I like comedies of errors, and while a number of the more silly, more slapsticky elements of Jo do not hold up, there are many elements that are still fresh, including the plot and the acting, as well as large parts of the humour.
The film was directed by Jean Girault, who directed de Funès in at least 13 films during his life. Apart from the aforementioned Gensac and Galabru, the film’s cast includes other long-time de Funès collaborators like Florence Blot and Bernard Blier; and Carlo Nell (who, incidentally, also died in 2016).
Blot and Blier are great picks for their respective roles, and Blier’s police inspector is especially enjoyable. Micheline Luccioni plays the maid in a very exaggerated manner (a director’s choice), but her acting stays on the right side of the line and her outrageous character helps to create the chaotic atmosphere the film is aiming for. A very minor supporting role for the renowned Ferdy Mayne rounds off this very well-chosen cast.
As far as the comedies of de Funès are concerned, I had always remembered Jo as one of the most enjoyable. And having seen it again I believe that it holds up quite well, if not completely.
I would like to encourage everyone to seek out some of de Funès’s work, provided you enjoy his mix of physical humour and storm-tossed dialogue.