Not (Benoit Poelvoorde) lays claim to being the oldest punk in Europe with a dog, his brother Jean-Pierre (Albert Dupontel) is more respectable, and works in a mattress store in a strip mall. For all of his disapproval of his brother’s lifestyle, when Jean-Pierre’s life falls apart he quickly accepts that Not may have something to teach him after all.
Not and Jean-Pierre could not be more different as brothers, but while Not does not try to control his brother, Jean-Pierre makes it all too clear that he does not approve of the choices that Not has made in his life. While it may feel that Le Grand Soir is a film made by French people, for French people – many of the jokes fail to land with an international viewer – this does not mean that the film is impossible to understand without the eye or ear of the French. The themes of the film are universal; acceptance, respect and love.
Benoit Poelvoorde plays Not as a slightly anarchic character who seems more interested with the idea of punk than the application. Lacking police to define his movement, Not becomes more Punk Lite than punk. Once Jean Pierre joins his brother, he changes from highly strung corporate man into a man closer to his brother, and the pair form an almost clownish double act as they make their way through the suburbs.
Le Grand Soir makes a great show of conveying that while Not may be the more unconventional of the brothers – he sleeps where he can and lives on beer and Jean-Pierre works in a mattress store – he is actually incredibly accepting of those around him. Unless he is trying to beg or steal food from the people he encounters, they do not bother him, where as Jean-Pierre – who works in a mattress store until the pressure becomes too much and he finally snaps – is incredibly critical of those around him. The turning point comes when the life that Jean-Pierre has created comes crashing down around him and, after trying to set himself on fire as protest about what happened to him, he finally takes a leaf out of his brother’s book.
Characters in the film may change slightly too suddenly, but it is easy to see the joy that both brothers experience when they are finally united. They embark on an odyssey across the countryside – Not teaching his brother about the ways of the punk – and revel in their newfound ‘freedom’. Punk may be a dying culture, but Jean-Pierre (or ‘Dead’, as he rebrands himself) embraces the lessons his brother imparts.
For French audiences, Le Grand Soir is a film that will be incredibly familiar to them. Albert Dupontel and Benoît Poelvoorde are well known TV actors, and the characters they play are almost the French equivalent of Rats from the Flats from the Irish TV show Paths to Freedom. The film is littered with satire and comment on French culture, and while this delights French audiences, it also means that the film will not travel incredibly well.
In all, Le Grand Soir is a French film aimed at French audiences, but the themes of love, acceptance and respect of the people who are in our lives – whether we like it or not – are universal and even though some of the humour will not land with international viewers, the film is still sweet and rather funny.