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In 1995, the film "les trois frères" made by the French comic trio Les Inconnus and was very successful. Two of them felt like renewing with this success and for this, they chose to create a film about tobacco. It deals with 2 brothers who hate themselves: the first one is a rich chemist and the second one is a modest teacher. One day, during a family meal, they place themselves to the test: they mustn't smoke for a fortnight. Their troubles have just begun...At the beginning, the film rather turns out to be promising because the starting mission is interesting. Alas! the more the film advances and the more it wanders from the topic. As a consequence, the plot becomes non-existent and you deal with a labored comedy that doesn't avoid clichés linked to tobacco. And this comedy's got problem sustaining the interest. Moreover, comic results often fall flat and Pascal Légitimus' absence is something that you feel.In the long run, "Le pari" is less funny and entertaining than the Inconnus' previous movie. To forget without remorse.
Released in 1997, "The Bet" was co-directed and co-written by Didier Bourdon and Bernard Campan, two former members of the French comedic trio known as "Les Inconnus" ("the Unknowns"). And obviously, what first struck the attention of French spectators was the absence of the trio's third stooge, Pascal Légitimus.The feature will probably go unnoticed by a foreign audience, while in France, the trio was so famous one couldn't imagine the three actors evolving separately in a movie, much more two out of three. The release of the movie carried many interrogations and the absence of Légitimus left the fanatics wondering if "The Bet" would match the quality of "The Three Brothers", the movie that starred the three actors (also co-directed by Bourdon and Campan) and the highest-grossing film of 1995. "The Bet" met with a fair famous acclaim, was one the Top 10 films in French theaters, and while not in the same league than its predecessor, it is still regarded today as one of the funniest comedies of the 90's.And "The Bet"'s appeal relies on a easy comedic premise tackled effectively by the two leads: social opposition. Didier and Bernard (played by the namesake actors) couldn't have been more opposite, Didier is a wealthy pharmacist, married with Isabelle with an adoptive African girl, while Bernard is a teacher in a suburb and lives with Victoria. Apart from being married to two sisters and being smoke-addicts, they belong to separate worlds that inevitably impacted their political views. Didier is the typical bourgeois liberal reading the right-wing newspaper 'Le Figaro" and driving a black Mercedes, while Bernard is the left-wing teacher, driving a rusty vehicle and reading "Liberation". Bourdon and Campan proves to be masters in the art of testing archetypal characters with self-derision, a talent that defined the popularity of "the Unknowns".The opposition between the two boys leads to a magnificently written sequence when they celebrate the birthday of Vincente, their father-in-law and other smoke-addict. Every of Didier and Bernard tries to outsmart the other, and the confrontation ends up on a easy bet, to stop smoking for fifteen days, until the next get-together occasion. The bet is the pay-off of the opposition cleverly established in the first part, offering the ultimate occasion for the two rivals to compete with equal weapons. And the storyline chronicles the days following the bet, when everything begins wonderfully, before their lives inevitably turn sour when they realize their addiction was more serious than they thought maybe because cigarettes happened to be the only remedy vs the bitter routine that poisoned their lives. And ironically, they're less trapped in their addiction, than the obsession of winning; basically, they're doing something good, but for the wrong reasons.The risk of such a synopsis is to rapidly run out of ideas, and the pacing of "The Bet" slows down a tiny bit by insisting too much on the parallel disintegration of Didier and Bernard's lives: caught up in the same situations, compensating with food, TV, exercises etc, and finally, purchasing cigarettes at night and conveniently meeting in the same drugstores, a plot device that would have rung false if it wasn't saved by the gags, and that's how "The Bet" works, just when you think the movie won't be the laugh riot you expect, one stage drives the narrative again. Indeed, when they meet two weeks after the bet, it's other starter for comedic situations, culminating with the the anonymous smokers sequence, when they join a sort of anti-smoking sect whose slogan (untranslatable in French) became a catchphrase in French pop culture and whose methods, if not to stop smoking, are certainly effective to generate the largest laughs.The therapy is the most memorable part of the film, and certainly most hilarious thanks to the scene-stealing performances of two another French comedians: Phillipe Chevalier as the guru and Régis Lespalès as Gilbert the winner and model of perseverance and abstinence (previous champion of the Golden Lung award). To give you an idea, one of the exercises consist on watching different slides in a projection room and reacting with 'good' or 'no good' whether cigarettes are show or not in the pictures, The therapy fully alienates Dider and Bourdon and causes them to leave their wives after a disastrous party. Gilbert welcomes them for the night, but the nightmarish interior of his house and the final punch line revealing the secret of his abstinence is hilarious beyond words, and sadly, the movie doesn't receive funnier after this episode.After one hour, "The Bet" type of loses its energy and seems like in a rush to close the two characters' arcs, Didier and Bourdon become grotesquely obese and end up in a thermal cure, but they're miraculously cured at the end, leading fresh lives far from the standards that defined their smoking-years. We never receive to know what exactly makes their characters change, but this is a minor criticism since the movie remains consistent nonetheless, and happens to create some interesting statements about the roots of addiction, especially when the remedy is worse than the evil. And it's an occasion to rediscover the movie with nostalgic eyes, remembering the era where smoking in public territories wasn't a taboo. The movie also includes some intelligent winks to "The Shining" and "Psycho" that I wouldn't dare to spoil.Now, regarding the absence of Légitimus, it doesn't now harm the content of the movie whose delight centers on the opposition between two men, while three would have been meaningless. Although I want Legitimus had a much more interesting cameo, but his absence doesn't prevent the movie from being a delicious tiny comedy, besides, his starring in their next movie "The Three Kings" didn't create it more successful.But to conclude on a positive note, if I had to describe "The Bet' with one word, and paraphrasing the therapists with their laconic voice in unison, I can only tell : "Good".
It's very close to « Les 3 Frêres » : a really funny comedy which pits upper/lower families in a large exploding crisis. The only difference is the absence of Legitimus. In a way, it's the type of films that is currently not produced anymore as today french comedies are like American ones fully devoted to rich idle people. Here, on contrary, the two partners looks like us, the (paying and working) audience. So that's the key to receive into the storyline and thus we pay attention to the characters, we can exchange with them, we can recognize ourselves or search inspiration. With those guys, their trademark is to have fun but everytime coupled with a social content, here the smoking habit. And as the greatest comedy, the drama is never far away so it's really an clever and engaging film that brings a nice moment!
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