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Short Take: Slack Bay

(Bruno Dumont, France, Kino Lorber, Opens April 21)

Don’t we all have enough on our plates?” That’s the central question in Slack Bay, a comedy with a Buñuelian fascination with mealtime: this story of two families uneasily cohabiting on the windswept Pas-de-Calais coast circa 1910 digresses at regular intervals to show the characters gathered around their respective dinner tables. While members of the bourgie-tourist Peteghem clan slice daintily into massive sides of beef, the Bruforts, indigenous fishermen, pick bloody morsels out of a boiling cauldron—more specifically the ears, arms, and feet of plump, unlucky weekenders.

“Eat the rich” is the theme here, and Dumont—whose apparent mid-career transformation into a slapstick existentialist is a welcome twist—expresses it with a mix of mastery and eccentricity. By splitting his cast between big-ticket French movie stars (Fabrice Luchini, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, and Juliette Binoche play the Peteghems) and nonprofessional locals—including 18-year-old Brandon Lavieville as Ma Loute, the most soulfully conflicted of the cannibals—the director cleverly embeds the theme of class warfare. But what makes Slack Bay so magical are its surfaces: cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines’s widescreen compositions conjure up a sun-blind paradise of aquamarine skies and endless horizon lines.

The result is a surpassingly serene film about brutality that also offers a modest proposal that reconciliation between rich and poor is possible, provided the elders on either side don’t let their skepticism and resentments swallow them whole.