Dry Cleaning (nettoyage A Sec)

on January 29, 1999 by Ed Scheid
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"Dry Cleaning" is another original film from director/co-writer Anne Fontaine ("Augustine"); it won the Best Screenplay award at the Venice Film Festival. Nicole ("Germinal's" Miou-Miou) and Jean-Marie ("Ridicule's" Charles Berling) are hard-working owners of a dry-cleaning business in a small French town. They have a small son and are usually too busy to get out at night. On a rare night off they go to a local night club. The entertainment act, Queen of the Night, is a cross-dressing couple who turn out to be brother and sister. Both Nicole and Jean-Marie become intrigued with the exotic performers, especially when Loic (Stanislaus Merhar), the male part of the act, shows up at their business asking them to clean a spot from a dress he wears in his act.
   As in the best of French films, "Dry Cleaning" successfully mixes a variety of moods. What begins as an amusing cultural clash seamlessly becomes a gripping psychological study. Fontaine skillfully shows the uneventful life in the provincial town. When the brother-sister act breaks up, Loic get a job with the dry cleaners and becomes a diligent and effective worker. He also manages to insinuate himself into the family's life. This change in the daily routine brings out problems in the marriage that the ordinary couple have been to busy to face.
   Miou-Miou movingly conveys Nicole's dissatisfaction as she reveals to Loic that she's never felt at home in the town. Tension builds as Jean-Marie resents the ambiguous Loic's increasing influence and neighbors begin to gossip. Berling gives a strong performance, showing Jean-Marie's frustration as he loses control of his once-comfortable family life. Merhar keeps Loic ambiguous, which keeps the film unpredictable. Fontaine's assured direction keeps "Dry Cleaning" continually fascinating throughout the unexpected directions of the unconventional screenplay. Starring Miou-Miou, Charles Berling and Stanislaus Merhar. Directed Anne Fontaine. Written by Anne Fontaine and Gilles Taurand. Produced by Philippe Carcassone and Alain Sarde. A Strand release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Running time: 97 min.
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