CANNES, France (Reuters) - French director Bruno Dumont, whose extravagant comedy "Ma Loute" (Slack Bay) premieres at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday, is once again using his beloved northern France to deliver a caustic social critique.
On France's northern coast during the Belle Epoque era leading up to World War One, a family of mussel harvesters prey on the rich who spend their holidays by the Cote d'Opale.
Among those rich are the Van Peteghem family - decadent, inbred and stupid.
A link is made between the two by the love story between Ma Loute, the elder son of the mussel-harvesters who also help the rich cross the bay -- eating a few of them in the process -- and the gender-fluid Billie van Peteghem.
The disappearance of several people is being investigated by two detectives, Laurel and Hardy style as Dumont instils comedy in his cinema after the dark "L'Humanite" and "The Life of Jesus".
While the mussel-harvesters and Billie are played by non-professional actors, the Van Peteghems are played by seasoned French actors including Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche.
"I had been wanting to stay within drama for a while but there I opened the floodgates and I realized that comedy is really close to drama, it's a substitute for drama. Comedy is like a scale that goes up and down," Dumont told a news conference.
The audience experiences the film as a carnival in northern France, where people cross-dress and mock the powerful.
"The carnival is a real tradition in the North. What you have to do is look under these characters who are larger than life," said Dumont, who insists on filming his native northern France as a firm believer his point will be stronger.
"Cinema is a metaphor. So what is local becomes a metaphor. So I don't see a problem in making a very French film that at the same time, because it is very French, will become an international film," he said.
Dumont won the Grand Prix du Jury, often considered the competition's runner-up prize, twice in Cannes with "L'Humanite" in 1999 and "Flanders" in 2006.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Dominic Evans