French Viplavam Review: Delightfully wacky satire that is a bit overcrowded
Director Maju's debut is a bold experiment that could've used a little more polishing
French Viplavam is a two-hour film built on a two-line premise. It is a subtle satire that has the eccentricity of films such as Amen, Aadu, Aadu-2, and the recent Theevandi. Though it doesn't quite attain the sophistication of its most obvious influences — the films of Lijo Jose Pellissery — it does have a distinct style of its own.
The film opens with the frenzy in a fictional Kerala village following the prohibition of liquor by the AK Antony government in 1996. The man most affected is Sisupalan (Lal) who has to close down his liquor shop and chose the much "nobler" profession of a temple committee president. Sathyan (Sunny Wayne), an employee of his, falls in love with his daughter. Sisupalan doesn't approve of this union. But a rare brand of French wine can fix this problem and Sathyan's attempts to procure it are what drive the film's narrative.
Cast: Sunny Wayne, Lal, Unnimaya Prasad, Chemban Vinod Jose
Shot in long, fluid takes, the film contains more medium and wide shots than close-ups. This means less scope for heightened emotions and melodrama, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The film is basically a series of random and delightfully wacky situations stitched together. But sometimes the overdose of quirkiness can test your patience. And the western background score doesn't always make a good match.
Some individual sequences deserve special mention, like that scene where a husband, unaware that his wife is cheating on him, comes home early one night and tells her about another cheating wife who tried to sneak her lover out right from under the husband's nose — this is happening while the narrator's wife is thinking of ways to sneak her lover out right from under her husband's nose. I won't tell you how this situation is resolved, but it's an ingeniously written sequence.
A handful of other tense moments, which would in another film create predictable outcomes, are treated with an unusual light-heartedness in this film. So, for instance, a scene where Sisupalan is told by his wife that Sathyan has made their daughter pregnant provokes a much different reaction from what you would normally expect. Almost every character is hyperactive. There is a peculiar rhythm to the way the actors deliver their lines. Though this is a commendably fresh approach, it sometimes works to the film's detriment, because these characters behave as if they are clones of each other; none of them particularly stand out.
But all the actors seem to be having a lot of fun, especially Sunny Wayne, whose serious visage sharply contradicts the ridiculous things his character sometimes does.While this film could've been a lot better if the loud quirkiness had been dialled down a bit, and a couple of characters omitted, French Viplavam's bold experimental style is certainly worth applauding.