Blu-ray Review: In the Courtyard (2014)

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In the delightful international hits Apres Vous and Priceless, French writer/director Pierre Salvadori delivered his own unique spin on Francis Veber style mistaken identity paradigms and early twentieth century Hollywood screwball romantic comedies.

Craving a change of pace from those earlier intricately written, dialogue-heavy screenplays, Salvdori replaced Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch with Anton Chekov and Stephin Merritt as inspiration for his latest and most experimental effort In the Courtyard. And turning once again to autobiographical elements in his past, the filmmaker decided to fall back on two character ideas that had long fascinated him

Yet while separately the two oddball characters of a depressive musician who walks away from success and a housewife pushed to the brink of insanity by the appearance of a crack in her living room wall might have inspired two very different and worthwhile narrative endeavors, there’s little if anything holding Salvadori's fragile Courtyard together besides the charm of actors Gustave Kervern and Catherine Deneuve.

Not bothering to delve very far into his characters’ backstories or pay off on the musical background of the main lead (who might as well have been a telemarketer), Salvadori and his co-writer David LĂ©otard overwhelm the already threadbare plotline with an endless parade of eccentric characters that continually pull focus away from the two leads. And though it’s been given an impressive transfer to Blu-ray high definition, the film is often reminiscent of an unfunny sketch comedy.

While it doesn’t need the romantic glow of Vous or the ritzy polish of Priceless level luxury apparent in his earlier Lubitsch-like comedies, Courtyard is devoid of much needed warmth and energy thanks to its overly washed out color palette, largely uninspired edits, and fly-on-the-wall style cinematography.

Fascinated by the potential of symbolism and allegory, while Salvadori infuses In the Courtyard with some refreshing moments of situational humor (as opposed to his former standby rapidfire wit), this melancholy dramedy is far too bitter than sweet or even bittersweet.

With the songs of Stephin Merritt’s Magnetic Fields and the spirited performances serving as the film’s saving grace, you can’t help but think how much stronger the work could’ve been if it had taken a cue from Once or in God Help the Girl and put the musical plotline to good use.

Uneven, messy, and relentlessly downbeat, while In the Courtyard marks an ambitious attempt for Salvadori to develop an old idea in a new way and move beyond his winning screwball comedy formula, in the end it's a gamble that fails to pay off.

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