"The Annuity" relies on a simple and implacable pattern: whatever Dr. Gallipeau (Michel Galabru) predicts, he is WRONG.
To give you an idea : he tells his brother Emile (Jean-Pierre Darras) that he'll have a daughter, Emile paints the baby's room in pink, yet "It's a boy!", during a Christmas dinner, he says : "What is Hitler, just a house painter
doesn't hold a candle to Hindenburg
trust me" or "I give you my word, there will be no war
trust me" and the scene is instantly followed by archive footage of WWII. His intuitions concluded by a confident "trust me" always fail but thankfully never fail to make us laugh as they are the perfect indication that what he says will definitely not happen.
So, the "trust me" is not just hilarious, it's also the insightful catchphrase foreshadowing the film's plot line. In the beginning, after a very creative opening credits sequence making (literally) a reverse travel from 1970 to 1930, we meet Dr. Gallipeau with Mr. Martinet, a good old 59-year old bachelor with no family and a health that doesn't invite for optimism. "You're just worn-down" laconically says the doctor "all you need is an early retirement». It seems a good idea since. Martinet just bought a little house in a small Mediterranean town named St-Tropez. "Saint
what?" interrupts Gallipeau, this is a joke by itself since the town was and still is the French Mecca of vacationers and showbiz celebrities.
Gallipeau immediately sees the light, how about buying the house with a life annuity?. Mr. Martinet doesn't know exactly what it is, "oh, it's simple, a child can explain it". Then, a child's voice-over explains the annuity contract, with cute little drawing to illustrate them. A buyer gives an old person a life annuity every month, but the house doesn't belong to him until the seller dies. Interesting, isn't it? Well, Gallipeau is convinced that he just made a real bargain and will provide the Family the perfect change from Paris' tumultuous life.
Suspicious first, the Gallipeaus are all enchanted when they visit the house, and can picture themselves leaving a peaceful life under the Provencial sun, in front of the Mediterranean sea. But what they forgot is that the decision was based on the "trust me" pattern and will become a curse for the three generations of Gallipeaus. Not the luckiest cinematic characters, they even follow the notary's advice to base the annuity on some financial ratings, they choose aluminum, which at the Eve of a World War doesn't seem an appropriate choice to make the annuity lower.
And don't worry, I'm not spoiling the film by saying that not only he'll live, but he'll become centenarian, outliving all the Gallipeaus. In fact, this is the basis of the film's comedic plot line following three major running gags. The most obvious one highlights the immoral aspect of the annuity in the way they made the buyers feel good if the seller feels bad. Needless to say that Martinet's health will totally improve, to the Martinet's greatest 'enchantment'. The second running gag is the way Michel Serrault never realizes what the Gallipeaus are into, and consider them as good friends. The third one starts when the ill-fated Gallipeaus, turn into movie villains and decide to give a little hand to destiny.
In fact, the so-called spoiler is the only way to grab people's interest. In a nutshell, a Family buys a life annuity to an old man on the expectation that he'll die soon, yet the guy outlives them all. And if you don't believe this could happen, you have to take into consideration that the case happened so often the annuity almost became synonym of jinx that immediately increase the seller's life expectancy. One of the most famous cases is Jeanne Calment, who was to become the oldest woman in the world, and had the grandchildren of her buyer still paying the annuity. Sometimes, reality can be more exaggeratedly hilarious than fiction. And on that aspect, the idea of making a comedy based on the annuity is pure genius because just the simple thought of it makes smile. It's like Billy Wilder exploiting the "double indemnity" clause in life insurances to make a suspenseful crime film.
It's funny how an administrative operation can build the structure of a whole movie's story; especially when it's written by René Goscinny, the writer of some of the most popular comic-books of the French-Belgian school: Asterix and Lucky Luke to name a few. Goscinny is famous for his sophisticated and intelligent humor, never too raunchy or subversive, but appealing to both kids and adults. The film is directed by his long-time friend Pierre Tchernia, a TV pioneer who collaborated to most Asterix and Lucky Luke films.
But don't let the general sweetness of the film fool you , it's still a masterpiece of Black comedy, full of such hilarious lines as "we should have sold France to the Germans with a life annuity, with you, we'd be safe", a lawyer dies of a heart attack : "poor chap, the last case he won" "the first too" and carried by stellar performances from the two Michels, Galabru and Serrault, Jean-Pierre Darras, Rosy Varte, Yves Robert and Depardieu in a promising debut. The film has also a beautiful way to mark the passing of time, through a great montage of Christmas dinners or cinema's news, It's also a delicious slice of French history from the 30's to 70's.
Since I mentioned Wilder, the film is in the same vein than some of his greatest comedies. That it has only one review (before mine) on IMDb is beyond me since it's one of the most hilarious French comedies enjoyable with a bittersweet taste of poignancy sometimes, as it's also a poetic film about the passing of time. One thing for sure, you'll think about it twice before buying a life annuity.
5 out of 7 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.