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SCREEN INTERNATIONAL, LEE MARSHALL
Franco-Belgian directing duo Delepine & Kervern (Avida) return to the fray with a surreal, politically-incorrect black comedy about a group of laid-off female factory workers who hire a hitman to take revenge. Despite an occasional excess of bad taste, Louise-Michel is mostly hilarious and with careful targeting in the raft of ter-ritories already sold - with more surely to come - should go the distance on the arthouse circuit.
With its sure sense of timing, enjoyable odd-couple dynamic and talent for one-liners, Louise-Michel displays a sincere human touch in its critique of modern business ethics, de-spite the taste lapses. And though it sags noticeably in the middle, this cross between Aki Kaurismaki's surreal whimsy and Takeshi Miike's shock tactics should be a lure for sophisti-cated urban audiences and may wind up achieving cult status.
Two tasty central performances by Yolande Moreau and Bouli Lanners help to glue the anar-chic comedy together. Moreau plays Louise, a morose, anti-social, none-too-bright worker in a beleaguered all-woman toy factory in Picardy. When management simply clears off one day, leaving an empty shed behind, Louise's fellow workers (played effectively by real-life redundant textile workers) decide to pool their meagre union compensation money so they can do something worthwhile with it.
Louise's proposal is quickly approved: they should use the money to hire a hitman to track down the boss and whack him. A chance encounter leads the inarticulate, shuffling, Louise to Michel (Lanners), a self-styled 'security manager' whose boasted military prowess and weapons expertise soon turns out to be a sham: he can't even bring himself to shoot a dog. But he has a cousin with cancer who might be persuaded to pull the trigger.
The script spins along at a terrific pace until half an hour in, when it all risks degenerating into a series of Pythonesque sketches. But things pick up again when - the wrong boss hav-ing been snuffed - Louise and Michel go on the road, first to Brussels and then to Jersey, in search of the man who's really at the top of all those smokescreen holding companies. Skewed camera angles and fisheye lenses keep things nicely whacky, and the sparsely-used US indie rock soundtrack shares the directors' healthy sense of anarchy.
It's well worth staying around for the enjoyable post-credits stinger - which comes just after the film's non-conformist agenda has been firmed up with a portrait of, and dedication to, the historical Louise-Michel, who was a nineteenth-century French revolutionary and social reformer.

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