french comedy the closet is anequal-opportunity send-up, parodying both gays and straights.Daniel Auteuil stars as François Pignon, an accountant at a condom company who's about to lose his job to downsizing. Pignon's lived a small life.
He's a sweet but very boring man who's worked at the same company for 20 years and whose ex-wife and son barely speak to him.
Pignon contemplates suicide, but his neighbour pulls him out of his funk by suggesting he can save his job by pretending to be gay. The condom company won't want to risk an unlawful dismissal case.
They send altered photos of Pignon in bare-ass chaps being fondled by another man to the company president, and it doesn't take long for the people in his life to start paying attention: a homophobic co-worker (Gérard Depardieu) strains to become his buddy, his son suddenly thinks he's cool, the company president wants him to ride on a Pride Day float and a couple of co-workers gay-bash him.
Pignon gets a taste of being an out gay person in the 21st century, when dangerous homophobia still exists but many straights either don't give a shit about queer sexuality or secretly envy gay people's personal freedom.
The story moves along quickly, taking amusing little detours, so writer/director Francis Veber avoids falling into the predictable pattern of preaching tolerance. Pignon goes back and forth between being a victor and a victim, an icon and an object of scorn.
If he were a more self-serving character, we could really dislike him, but Auteuil plays the mousy man beautifully, giving Pignon a fearful expression that allows people to believe he's either a scared straight guy terrified of the world or a closeted gay man afraid of being outed.
Auteuil is France's everyman actor. Unlike larger-than-life Depardieu or pretty boy Vincent Perez, he makes a living playing the face in the crowd, a face we can relate to.
THE closet written and directed by Francis Veber, produced by Patrice Ledoux, with Daniel Auteuil, Gérard Depardieu, Michèle Laroque and Thierry Lhermitte. 85 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (July 13). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 67. Rating: NNN