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The Pharmacist
Directed by Jean Veber

Starring: Vincent Perez, Guillaume Depardieu, Pascal Légitimus, Clara Bellar
Script: Jean Veber
Original Title: Le Pharmacien de Garde
Running Time: 1:30
Country: France
Year: 2003
Official Site: The Pharmacist
Described by its author, first-time director Jean Veber, as a mix of thriller, horror and humor, The Pharmacist is the tale of an environmentalist whose crusade cuts a bloody path as he murders high-profile symbols of ecological nuisance—a tobacco industry tsar and the head of a cosmetics company, among others. Yann Lazarrec, a pharmacist, is the anti-hero of a good cause and the fact that he closely resembles a French heartthrob (Vincent Perez sporting a messy hair-cut) makes it clear that the director wants us to sympathize with his main character despite his taste for serial-killing. When Yann hears Francois Barrier (Guillaume Depardieu) claim at a conference that ecology must be fought as a war, we know that it's love at first sight at an ideological level. Of course it turns out that Francois is the very cop on his tail, but also a troubled soul tortured by his wife's infidelity.

As the film opened, I had the weird and uncomfortable feeling of watching a TV movie until I realized it was actually some news footage. But then the footage ended and the feeling remained, growing even more as the poor cinematography, awkward angles and a strong cast—wasted here—blended into some indigestible genreless jambalaya. What must have looked good on paper—which might explain the involvement of A-names like Perez & Depardieu in this first effort—turns into an onscreen mess.

Veber, the son of famous French comedy specialist Francis Veber (The Dinner Game, La Chèvre), worked on a few scripts before stepping behind the camera, and after seeing The Pharmacist it is obvious that he is more a writer—even debutant—than a director. Veber claimed to have been the subject of some negative French critiques for having mixed genres, but the issue is not there. The main failure of his work as a screenwriter is not to have been able to properly balance thriller, horror and humor. As the attempts at horror are never scary and the thriller sounds phony, we are only left with a few amusing moments and some welcome touches of poetry—the scene with the killer ladybugs in particular. Veber can write some spirited dialogues—when he doesn't fall into Luc Besson-like fart jokes—but the rest of the time, his writing is dull, even showing a bad taste for misogyny. Worse are his filmmaking abilities as he is neither able to set up scenes that work, nor can he direct his actors who go overboard—Perez in particular. The multiple references to genre cinema, from Seven to The Silence of the Lambs, The Crow 2 (here Perez badly spoofs his already bad incarnation of the avenging Goth) and Le Cercle Rouge don't bring the kind of legitimacy that can be found in the works of talented directors such as Quentin Tarantino.

Perez and Depardieu are voluntarily cast counter-nature here, but neither is Perez credible as a killer, nor does Depardieu convince as a cop. The transvestite cameo from Pascal Legitimus, of the famous stand-up trio Les Inconnus, also falls flat. Burdened by its multiple flaws and heavy-handed sub-plot lines, The Pharmacist loses its ecological purpose, giving you a prescription you certainly won't want to follow.

  Fred Thom

     French Film Reviews

     French Cinema: From Its Beginnings to the Present,
       Remi Fournier Lanzoni, Continuum Pub Group, 2002.
     French DVD Store

 




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