A Belly Full

The original French title of Melvin Van Peebles’s crudely overblown farce means The Tale of the Full Belly, referring both to the name of the provincial bistro (Le Ventre Plein) run by a middle-aged couple (Andrea Ferreol and Jacques Boudet) with an unmarried, pregnant daughter and to the faked pregnancy of the poor black woman (Meiji U. Tum’Si) they hire as a waitress. That hoax eventually allows the couple, posing as racially tolerant liberal employers, to pass off their daughter’s baby as hers. The flamboyant manner of this feature puts it in the category of the cinema of vulgar excess, and the highly eclectic visual style (leering wide-angle close-ups, fast action in the manner of silent slapstick, arbitrary superimpositions) seems to reflect Van Peebles’s boredom with the material. I’m not clear why the story is set in 1967; one possible reason is that Van Peebles wrote it back then and had to wait 30-odd years to find financing for it. In French with subtitles. 102 min. (JR)

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