It’s something of a coup that Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine’s fourth film, after the likes of ‘Aaltra’ and ‘Louise-Michel’, is also their most poignant to date. Partly that’s because it includes the most outrageous, perverse and heartbreakingly tender scene in their small but defiantly bad-taste oeuvre. Gérard Depardieu excels as laconic, hang-dog abattoir worker Serge, who goes on an ad hoc motorcycle tour of the French countryside to retrieve work permits from past employers which would make him eligible for a retirement payout. His quest, it soon transpires, is impossible, due in large part to his fumbling, sweetly inarticulate manner, but also because the records of his employment have long since been dumped in the bin of history. Undeterred, Serge takes a beguiling detour to visit his similarly unworldly niece, a sculptor of plastic dolls played by real-life outsider artist Miss Ming. The film shifts into the realms of the poetic and sets an early precedent for a heartbreaking and abstract finale.
Like an X-rated ‘Mr Bean’ written by Charles Bukowski, the gauche humour of ‘Mammuth’ camouflages a sweet torch song to the struggles of the working class in the face of private- and public-sector indifference. It’s photographed in warm, fuzzy Super16, a grimy aesthetic that suits its poverty-line milieu. Isabelle Adjani has a cameo as the ghost of a dead lover, while Yolande Moreau delivers humorous support from the sidelines as Serge’s harried wife.