L'emmerdeur (aka A Pain in the Ass) – 1973
This Francis Veber scripted French comedy features an unsmiling, intimidatingly serious and professional hitman (Lino Ventura) who sets up a temporary shooting spot in an upper story of a hotel. With a clear view of the government court across the road, the hitman is there to wait for the arrival of a heavily protected witness which he has a contract to assassinate. Next door to his room is Francois Pignon (Jacques Brel), a man dedicated to ending his life after the breakup of his marriage to Mrs. Pignon (played by Caroline Cellier). Pignon's first attempt to hang himself instead cracks open water pipes which brings hotel staff running. In an attempt to control the situation next door to his rifle post which he desperately needs to not draw attention, the hitman tries to keep the suicidal Pignon close by and pacified.
Veber's script has the same tone and mounting-humor as his later films (such as The Dinner Game, The Closet, The Valet, etc), but in this 1973 film there is a period seriousness (at least at first) by director Edouard Molinaro that makes L'emmerdeur seem like it could be one of the 70's legitimate, and very self-serious, crime or spy films, a contrast that probably helps Veber's comedy steal in on the audience who watch the hitman struggle (and slowly lose) all control of the situation, ending up with this time-obsessed killer (he has to provide the rifle shot at exactly the right moment in time) being used to drive a pregnant woman to the hospital, deeper-and-deeper involved in Pignon's marital woes, and then mistaken for Pignon himself by a psychiatrist (Jean-Pierre Darras) who administers tranquilizers a little too freely.
Like classic comedies from the silent era or the 1930's, Veber's humor keeps revitalizing itself by building on top of previous laughs and expanding the situations until it has taken over the movie entirely. That moment of triumph for the humor to have taken complete control in L'emmerdeur seems to leave the screen cast (and perhaps the audience) astounded at just how badly things can get out of control while a well-intentioned simpleton (Pignon) at the center travels through the chaos and disaster unscathed (and mostly unchanged, though his "problem" has achieved a state of solution).
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Original page August 2021 | Updated January 9, 2023