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  Ma Vie est un Enfer To The Devil With Her
Year: 1991
Director: Josiane Balasko
Stars: Daniel Auteuil, Josiane Balasko, Richard Berry, Michael Lonsdale, Catherine Samie, Jean Benguigui, Jessica Forde, Luis Rego, Catherine Heigel, Max Vialle, Ticky Holgado, Bertrand Blier, Alexandre Desplat
Genre: Comedy, Romance, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Leah Lemonier (Josiane Balasko) is a sad sack spinster who works thanklessly as a dental nurse, ordered about by her boss, but then she's pretty much used as a punching bag by everyone who deigns to pay any attention to her, which don't number many. She sees a psychiatrist (Richard Berry) to talk through her problems, yet although she would ideally like to be romancing him, he barely tolerates her. Her mother is little better, always doing her down and merely using her as a method to get a bit more cash from her renting an apartment. And it's her birthday and nobody noticed...

Oh dear, what a depressing arrangement for poor Leah, in one of renaissance woman Josiane Balasko's self-penned, self-directed movies, typically in her comic frame of reference. Though you wouldn't know it from the beginning, this was actually a fantasy as well, for Leah's mother Flo (Catherine Samie) has bought an antique mirror which she leaves in the apartment overnight along with her pet pooch Gorby. They're not aware of it, but that artefact is a gateway to their heart's desire thanks to a link to Hell itself, and there's a demon ready and waiting to take their call. It was meant to be Flo who took advantage of that, but things don't work out that way.

Ma Vie est un Enfer means My Life is Hell in English, but there is a genuine, curiously bureaucratic underworld to be taken into account, and this is where we belatedly meet Balasko's co-star, Daniel Auteuil. He would be best known for acting his socks off in many a weighty drama, but he displayed a liking for comedy too, and here he gives it one hundred percent in an utterly unrestrained performance as Abargadon the demon, delighting in his character's complete lack of morals as he initially tries to persuade Leah to let her hair down and sign a contract selling her soul for anything she can imagine.

Sure, she won't have her soul anymore, but won't it be worth it? So we were in Faustian territory once again, the stuff of many a comedy set up never mind the more serious drama, making this a French variation on the cult classic Bedazzled. Now that she has seen how badly life treats her, Leah wonders what she has to lose and prints her name on the dotted line, ready to exist on her own terms now rather than those of everbody else seeking to take advantage of her. Her first wish? To romance her psychiatrist, but not looking as she does - somewhat frumpy - no, as a beautiful blonde instead (Jessica Forde) who she contrives to meet with her man on the golf course.

When this ends up with Leah totally disillusioned after sodomising the shrink with a newly-grown penis, seeing him for the shallow womaniser he is (who decides after the experience he rather enjoyed it) it's obvious this is one of those Satanic comedies where the wishes don't result in the desired effect, simply because there are too many factors put into play which can mess up the goals of the wishmaker. If Ma Vie est un Enfer continued in that vein you could be left pondering why you weren't actually watching the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore favourite in the first place, but Balasko has other plans, and they feature Abar being put through the wringer after his machinations backfire on him instead of his clients. Thereafter a curious romance develops between him and Leah, as she has become close to him since he knows what she wants and was prepared to give it to her; misplaced affection perhaps, but it does lead to an unexpected denouement for a frequently bizarre though only occasionally very funny concoction. Music by Les Rita Mitsouko.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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