February 19, 2010 / 10:56 PM / 9 years ago

Depardieu charms as anti-hero in French tragi-comedy

BERLIN (Reuters) - French veteran Gerard Depardieu charmed audiences in his latest film “Mammuth” with his depiction of a lumbering, hairy anti-hero who re-discovers the poetry in life after retiring.

Actor Gerard Depardieu speaks during a news conference to promote the movie "Mammuth" at the Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, February 19, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

In the tragi-comic French movie, which premiered at the Berlin film festival on Friday, Mammuth retires from his job in a slaughterhouse but needs to gather the necessary paperwork from former employers to be able to claim his pension.

A road trip with a bureaucratic mission soon turns into a spiritual journey, as he encounters former friends, managers and long-lost family members. Mammuth comes to realize that society has always regarded him as an uncultivated, bumbling idiot.

An unexpected encounter with his wildly eccentric young niece however proves to be his redemption as she teaches him to be free, creative and careless of social judgment.

“Gerard’s character does not rebel violently,” Benoit Delepine, who directed the film together with Gustave Kervern, said at a news conference.

“He is called the nastiest names but finds love within him .. and if he survives, it is not by acting in a macho way.”

Depardieu said the film denounced the way work brutally strips people of their individuality and joie de vivre, and society requires them to conform.

“There is violence in a certain type of work that deprives you of your individuality and your voice,” he said. “It is not a physical but a social violence.”

The denunciation is humorous, however, rather than vitriolic. In one bleak but hilarious scene, a young waitress is baffled as four lonely businessmen sitting at separate tables break down into tears one after the other.

Above all, “Mammuth” is a celebration of surrealism and eccentricity — and is itself eccentric, intriguing reviewers.

“We all have some surrealism in us, but we lose it,” said Kervern. “It’s a shame.”

Mammuth sails across the Atlantic Ocean with his niece in a giant plastic basin and frequently sees and talks with the bloodied ghost of his first love, played by Isabelle Adjani.

“We have to resist standardization,” said Depardieu, complaining that there was less and less art in cinema.

“In making this film, I had a real sense of freedom ... it is a work of art.”

Editing by Myra MacDonald

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