Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here.
Jacky (Vincent Lacoste) is just like every other guy in the Kingdom of Bubunne. He’s uneducated, forced to wear a burka-like outfit every day and is entirely subservient to women. The ladies rule the land by force and tradition and make up the entirety of the military and government all the way up to the General who is in complete charge. Men can be performers of course, but their duty is in household chores meaning the best they can hope for is to have one of the many powerful women take their leash — take them as their own in marriage — and become the head of their own household.
But Jacky’s dreams go beyond finding a strong and successful woman to settle down with as he has his eyes and heart set on the General’s daughter (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who’s next in line to rule the kingdom and currently searching for a husband. The competition is stiff (see pic above), but with love and a whore of a revolutionary uncle on his side he just might stand a chance.
Jacky in the Kingdom of Women is, quite obviously, a satirical take on gender politics, and it hits its target more often than not with humor that runs the gamut from biting to broad to scatological. It’s as far from subtlety as it is from reality, but the gags still work throughout. Unfortunately, it never strives to move beyond its setup in any meaningful way.
We know we’re in a strange land from the opening image — Jacky, in his burka, jerking it to a photo of the Colonel (Gainsbourg). He goes on from there to perform his various chores including retrieving the mush, beating out the lumps in the mush and serving the mush to his mother when she returns home from work. Women around town are constantly offering for their daughters (or themselves) to take Jacky’s hand in marriage, but his mom is holding out. She relents when the announcement is made that the Colonel is seeking a husband, and soon Jacky is on his way to meet, woo and marry the most eligible bachelorette in the land.
The ideas in writer/director Riad Sattouf‘s film are fairly straightforward in how they invert the expected norm, but it’s the visuals that sell the idea and make it all so entertaining. The men’s joy as they dance in the streets after hearing the news about the Colonel is just a frolic of delight filled with slow-motion smiles and celebration. Jacky is frequently harassed by the girls, but it’s small, dialogue-free moments like a young woman spying his briefly exposed calf with a lascivious grin that make the world more complete.
While the kingdom is clearly based on a flip of certain Middle Eastern countries its target is really any country where sexism reigns supreme. East, West, women have seen varying degrees of cultural sexism pretty much the world over. Sattouf extends Bubunne’s fictional existence through the addition of numerous modified words and ideas too by tossing around blasphemery, veilery, plantums and meninism, and it offers a brief history of how the kingdom fought its way apart from the rest of the “perverted” world. Less of an alternate universe than an alternate nation, the Kingdom of Bubunne teases an existence currently only found in fiction, and while a comedy it attempts to make some pointed criticisms all the same.
For all the script accomplishes though in its effort to flip convention there are a few elements that feel out of place. “Bitchure” is a derogatory word used against a woman, and one scene sees a man force a woman to kiss at gunpoint. It’s like these moments slipped in subconsciously failing to receive the same inversion that every other aspect received.
The bigger issue though is that while the film delivers laughs from its premise and presentation it fails to truly move beyond that initial “what if” setup of men and women switching places. There’s a brief attempt at some Gilliamesque-inspired dystopian messiness, but it’s done for more visual appeal than narrative cohesion. Even the swap itself feels a bit slight as all of the sharp humor is aimed at the men’s experience while the women simply act tough and in charge.
Sattouf also scored the film giving it a Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet kind of feel — they created the Kids In the Hall theme — and it, along with the 89 minute running time helps keep the film moving at an amiable pace. It has plenty of fun with the concept and has much to say about the feminine existence, but like women around the world it suffers from a lack of real ambition.
The Upside: Fun concept finds its target more often than not; great, simplistic but energetic score
The Downside: Doesn’t really go beyond a simple flip of conventions; some mixed messages
On the Side: That last line was a joke to see how closely you were paying attention. Obviously some women have ambition.