By Lucy Jordan

French language ‘The Players’ is a comedy comprised of seven short films, and a collaborative effort between seven rising French directors, each on the theme of male infidelity. 

The film is produced, co-written and co-directed by Jean Dujardin, who won last year’s Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist. The pair are reunited once more in this latest offering, however if you were expecting another helping of old Hollywood whimsy then you are in for a surprise. 

Dujardin and partner in crime Gilles Lellouche’s various characters take the lead in the majority of the shorts, the first of which sees Dujardin’s ‘Fred’ cover for his friend when his wife cross-examines him on his whereabouts the previous night. This exchange is pulled off as if it was that was the seventh time it had happened that week, and so goes the rest of the film, where the pair, under different guises, seek to use every line in the book, to bed every lady they encounter. 

Hazanavicus’ offering, ‘La Bonne Conscience’ could not be more of a departure from 2011’s The Artist. In it, Dujardin plays an awkward, uni-browed, David Brent like character who is away from his wife for the weekend on a business conference. Bored and lonely, he takes it upon himself to try his luck with all his female colleagues as well as the hotel staff, failing miserably at every turn. The short includes some of the more cringe-inducing scenes of the film along with some of the more amusing, and, if anything, display Dujardin’s versatility as an actor.

 The ensuing shorts follow suit, with the protagonists’, pursuits and justifications for their behaviour becoming ever more outlandish with each scene.

 The biggest shift in tone in the whole feature comes from Emmanuelle Bercot’s ‘La Question’, and centres on an all night argument between Dujardin and his real life wife, Alexandra Lamy. This dialogue is very well delivered by both actors, and is at times difficult to watch, such is the intimacy on display. 

With the exception of this instalment, the remainder of the film had the feel of outtakes from a misdirected comedy sketch show, with each short meandering aimlessly towards a series of predictable and banal punch lines. 

The film is somewhat rescued by Dujardin’s instant likeableness and charisma, and his comedy roots are evident throughout. Other notable performances come from Guillaume Canet, who steals one of the film’s final scenes, playing an infidelity addict trying to charm his way out of a support group. Alexandra Lamy also puts in a solid performance as Dujardin’s wife, and adds depth to what would otherwise be a collection of one- dimensional caricatures. 

Despite their surface risqué and chauvinistic nature (The film’s original posters were banned in Paris for being too racy), the collection of shorts are for the most part tongue in cheek, with the cheating males invariably coming off the worst for their escapades, making the film into a kind of unconventional ode to the ultimate futility of infidelity.  However, comedies of this ilk have in the past been executed with more finesse, and ‘The Players’ leaves you yearning for a little more of the rapier and less of the bludgeon. While The Artist left almost everything to the imagination, even down to the dialogue, The Players leaves nothing. More black and white whimsy please.

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