The French comedy The Closet (original title Le Placard) is a fresh, different, and very funny tale of a man who, when his routine is shaken up, ends up surprising both himself and the people around him. François Pignon (Daniel Auteuil) is a nice guy, even though he's considered to be a colossal bore by his ex-wife, his teenaged son, and his co-workers at the condom factory, including the obnoxious Félix (Gérard Depardieu). But when Pignon finds out that he's soon to be fired from his job, he realizes that he has nothing to lose, and embarks on a plan that can keep him employed... if he can "come out" of a closet that he never was in to begin with!
The comedic elements in this movie hit the right spot on my funny bone: it's always amusing, and frequently even laugh-out-loud funny, without ever sliding into slapstick. At the same time, the humor is mixed in with a storyline that takes itself seriously, and rightfully so. The characters may end up in slightly absurd situations, but these situations evolve naturally from the personalities of the characters and their well-motivated actions; the characters' essential humanity comes through, and their problems feel genuine.
In fact, the characters are one of many strengths of The Closet. They're realistically drawn, neither entirely good nor entirely bad. Pignon is very sympathetic, but he's not perfect; some characters who seem nice on the surface show hidden negativity; and others who seem to be the worst of the worst turn out to be more complex than might be expected. As always, Depardieu is loads of fun to watch, this time as a prejudiced boor who's only willing to "shape up" if he feels that his own job is on the line. For the role of Pignon, Auteuil brings an excellent degree of depth to the character of the shy, withdrawn accountant who must bring himself to step out of his accustomed way of life. Even the secondary characters are consistently interesting and three-dimensional, including Pignon's sympathetic neighbor (Michel Aumont) and his supervisor at the office (Michèle Laroque).
Writer and director Francis Veber does a great job with handling the pace of the film. At only 85 minutes, The Closet is fairly short, and Veber uses every moment to his advantage. Each scene develops both the situation and the characters, while moving the story along at the same time; there are no slow or draggy spots in this movie. Plot-wise, The Closet is very similar to a Shakespeare comedy, odd as that may sound at first. The ball gets rolling with one character starting a bit of trickery and deception, while at the same time, unbeknownst to him, other characters are hatching their own schemes...all of which end up intersecting with each other to create unexpected, and very funny, results. Another of the strong points of this comedy is that, unlike far too many Hollywood comedies, the story is not the least bit predictable. The plot is interesting and entertaining... and often goes in unexpected directions, both on the dramatic and the comedic lines.
Presented in anamorphic 2.35:1, The Closet shines in its DVD presentation. There's some slight edge enhancement visible, but it doesn't detract much from the image at all. The only other flaw in the transfer is that a few small scratches and flecks appear in the image at times. Apart from those minor problems, The Closet's image looks great. The transfer offers nice, vivid colors, accurate skin tones, and an attractive, crisp image without any noise.
The French Dolby 5.1 track provides an excellent audio experience even for a largely dialogue-driven film. The surround isn't put to much of a workout, but the sound overall is full and clear, with crisp dialogue that sounds good at both high and low volume levels. No English track is included.
There's not a whole lot to be had in the extras department on this DVD: just trailers for several other Miramax films. The menus are nice-looking, though it's a little tricky to see which option is currently selected.
The subtitles section offers optional English subtitles and English captions for the hearing-impaired, but no French subtitles, which I felt was somewhat of a disappointment. Admittedly, it turned out that I would have needed to switch to English subtitles in any case: the dialogue turned out to be so heavy on slang that I wouldn't have been able to follow it in French even by reading the subtitles!
The Closet is both funny and smart: while it's provoking laughter, it's also taking interesting critical look at the way our expectations shape our perceptions. Without being at all didactic, the film also takes a look at the way that reactions to homosexuality have changed in modern society over the past twenty years...and the ways that they haven't changed, as well. The DVD presentation of this film is excellent, so if you're in the mood for a fun comedy that's fresh and different, I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of The Closet.