"Rumba" is the latest film from the creative team of Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy. All three share writing and directing credit; Abel and Gordon also take the leading roles. The Belgian trio previously gave us "L'Iceberg," a near-silent comedy filled with huggable quirksters, inventive slapstick, and meticulous visual peculiarities, a sort of Buster Keaton by way of Jacques Tati by way of Wes Anderson.
Abel/Gordon/Romy's works rely on episodic comedy with a human touch. "L'Iceberg" and "Rumba" come balanced with a sense of fairy tale glee, as wondrous exaggerations enhance a sort of innocent romantic charm. These are oddball outsiders whose escapades extend into a sort of Looney Tunes madness, yet their emotions remain grounded in reality. How can you not root for them?
In "Rumba," Abel and Gordon use their beanpole looks and rubber band bounciness to their maximum advantage, playing an adoring couple, both grade school teachers (gym for him, English for her), together a champion ballroom dancing team. The opening credits feature a lengthy dance sequence as the two shimmy and shake in self-choreographed bliss, which of course they take so very seriously. There's even a great sense of romance here, in how beautifully they behave as a couple - their rumba is truly a dance of love.
Ah, but tragedy must strike, and the screenplay offers a double wallop: following an auto accident, she is left without a leg and he is left without a memory. Other accidents of varying slapstick insanities arrive soon after, often of their own clumsy doing. And yet accidents will not bring them down; they're too determined to meet life's problems on their own terms (clueless terms though they may be).
But heartbreak does not elude them. It's not the loss of a leg that upsets the woman, it's the loss of her husband's undying love. His memory (both long- and short-term) gone, they no longer feel their once-unbreakable connection, and although they share some tender moments (best of all is a gentle bonfire sing-along to Phil Phillips' "Sea of Love"), there's some sorrowful regret in their new state. In one scene, the filmmakers show a fantasy sequence where the lovers' shadows dance with wild passion while their real bodies slump in thoughts of an excitement they'll no longer be able to express.
The heartbreak leads us to the final act of the movie, where the forgetful husband finds himself swept away by circumstance into another life, unaware that he's left his wife behind. This would make for the weepiest of melodrama, except the whole thing, every single ounce of misfortune, is played with a wondrous buoyancy. Each misguided turn, each awkward stumble, each burned-down house is the product of carefully constructed visual humor. This is slapstick of the most masterful kind, which allows them to get away with, say, the couple burning down their own house out of sheer stupidity, because every upping of the visual punchline ante is expertly timed for laughs.
It's impossible not to love these weirdos, who are bursting with a boundless love for life, and for each other. Their hardships are never to be taken too seriously, no matter how catastrophic the screenplay demands their lives become. Even after all that happens here, the couple still feel like dancing, and perhaps so will you.
Video & Audio
"Rumba" shines with a bright, bold color scheme, and that comes through splendidly in this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The whole thing looks like the cartoon it's meant to be.
The French soundtrack, presented in both Dolby 5.1 and 2.0, has a rich texture to it; the balance of music and effects is vital to the film, and both come through splendidly here on both tracks. Optional English subtitles are included.
A collection of deleted scenes (5:20 total; 1.85:1 flat letterbox) offers some extended physical gags, all wordless, including several clever bits with Dom and Fiona's students.
A lengthy parade of outtakes (10:12; 1.85:1 flat letterbox) reveal just how difficult staging these gags can get.
A batch of previews for other Koch Lorber offerings rounds out the disc.
Admirers of the quirky and the absurd will definitely find much to love here, while fans of silent comedy will delight in seeing this filmmaking trio's unique approach to laughs. Recommended.