An eclectic and offbeat French comedy with plenty of charm, Rumba is an intriguing, occasionally beguiling offering which owes a great deal to the films of Jacques Tati and to a kind of innate French surrealism present in the works of contemporary directors such as Michel Gondry.

It tells the tale of married couple Dom and Fiona, both teachers at a junior school in rural France, whose passion is to dance the Rumba. They are masters of the dance, with a cabinet full of trophies to demonstrate their skill. But one day their dream is disrupted and their lives transformed forever when, on the return journey from yet another victorious competition, they are in a serious car accident caused by a man’s attempted suicide. The accident leaves them each with a disability: Dom has severe amnesia and short-term memory loss, while Fiona loses her leg and is forced to use a wooden one as a substitute.

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The rest of the film sees them coming to terms with the impact of their disabilities, as events take increasingly bizarre turns, with the lovers less and less in control of their own destiny.

This is certainly not just another dance film with a formulaic triumph-over-adversity plot and a variety of sequences choreographed to demonstrate the incredible progress of the dancers throughout the film. Nor can it be described as a serious look at disability, given the amount of (occasionally uncomfortable) slapstick sequences involving Dom’s memory loss and Fiona’s impaired mobility. It is more of an exercise in surreal slapstick, taking its cue from Jacques Tati and referencing the comedy violence of Tex Avery, with an exceptionally sparse script which allies it more with early silent cinema and physical theatre.

When this approach works, it really works – especially in Dom’s extremely funny return to teaching and in the two wonderfully charming dream sequences: one involving a touching dance along the surface of the ocean and the other a phenomenal, yet light-hearted routine which sees the shadows of the lovers dancing the rumba whilst the two bodies sit prone in wheel chairs – truly the film’s highlight.

That said, the film is far stronger when it sticks to these excellent set pieces, rather than its unconvincing attempts at plot and character development. The worst moments of the film, by a distance, are the unnecessary sequences involving Gérard, the man whose attempted suicide led to the accident which left the couple disabled. When a bizarre turn of events leads him to be reunited with Dom, the ensuing melodrama is almost enough to engulf the rest of the film, temporarily making me forget why I was enjoying it in the first place.

Very capable of raising of smile and, at its best, offering some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, this is a mostly enjoyable French comedy, which should be a welcome antidote to the formulaic Hollywood fayre, we’ve come to know and hate.

Reviewed on: 24 Mar 2010
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Offbeat comedy in the style of Tati.
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Director: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Bruno Romy

Writer: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Bruno Romy

Starring: Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, Philippe Martz, Bruno Romy, Clément Morel

Year: 2008

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: France, Belgium


Leeds 2008

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