Released in 2017, Gaspard va au Mariage or Gaspard at the Wedding is a genre defier par excellence.
With an adroit narrative zest courtesy of writer/director Antony Cordier, the film leaps with beguiling, quirky grace from romantic comedy to lo-fi family drama to a gently farcical comedy, all while remaining emotionally evocative and visually, beautifully immersive.
The story of 25-year-old, Gaspard (Félix Moati), who is reluctantly returning home to the zoo his family runs to attend the second wedding of his father Maxime (Johan Heldenbergh) when he meets Laura (Laetitia Dosch) in one of the most charmingly odd meet-cutes you will ever see (from which he spontaneously invites a goofy stranger to act as his girlfriend for the week), Gaspard at the Wedding manages to keep all kinds of divergent storytelling and thematic balls in the air without once feeling like some sort of freaky cinematic Frankenstein’s monster.
It is a marvel watching the film move from scene to scene, some with significant internal shifts of their own, and stay enchantingly affecting throughout.
That’s quite a feat because Gaspard’s are decidedly but likeably strange.
You could probably say that of most families but Gaspard’s family is in a delightfully weird but loving class of their own.
Father Maxime is a boho 50-something widower hipster – his first wife and his children’s mother (Élodie Bouchez), whom we only ever see in touching family movie throwbacks, died many years ago during a tiger attack – who spends most night resting naked in a giant tank of Garra rufa fish which feed on his psoriasis-afflicted skin.
The scene where the kids go down to talk with their father about the cancellation of his impending marriage to zoo vet/keeper Peggy (Marina Foïs) is emblematic of the dynamic percolating through the family.
Maxime is stark naked, as you’d expect, and thinks nothing of moving back and forth in the tank, leaving nothing to the imagination, as he talks to his bemused and frustrated children; similarly, the fact that their dad is starkers seems not to faze them one bit.
It’s clearly something they are used to in a family where boundaries, the kind many of us would take for granted, are routinely ignored, by the looks of it after many years of mutual consensus, and where the sharing of everything is a given.
Perhaps it’s a product of living and working in the same place, with the zoo clearly an all-consuming passion – save for Gaspard’s brother Virgile (Guillaume Gouix) who is there out of a sense of obligation rather than familial devotion; he loves his family but he admits he’s not a natural habitue of the place like Gaspard and his younger sister Coline (Christa Théret) who loves to dress in a bear skin and sniffs like an animal when meeting people – but the family is almost unnaturally close.
For the most part this boundary-less intimacy seems to work with each member seemingly free to talk about just about anything with the other but it becomes a little disquieting, particularly for Laura who is seeing a lifetime of worn-in familial behaviour for the first time, when it comes to Gaspard and Coline.
Always close, and more so following the untimely death of their mother, they think nothing of sharing a bath together or sucking blood of a wound; it seems perfectly natural to them but Laura, understandably, finds it all a bit confronting.
She also becomes aware that close though they are, that Gaspard, the golden boy of the family who was lauded in his childhood and youth for the clever but offbeat things he invented such as champagne cork parachutes or belly button removers, is now a black sheep of sorts in the family.
Fleeing to the city while everyone else remains at the zoo, which is failing and likely to be sold if the family can’t make it pay its way (unlikely), and eschewing his imaginative engineering brilliance for a life as a bistro worker and then lift maintenance man, Gaspard is intimately a part of the fabric of his family at the same as he is decidedly not.
Winningly, Cordier does not seek to ring overwrought drama out of a narrative seemingly custom made for such a narrative trajectory.
Rather, he allows the natural, idiosyncratic rhythm of Gaspard’s quirky family to play out in their own way, whether it’s the father’s low-key melodramatic announcement at romantic dusk that he’s selling the zoo, or Virgile and Gaspard finally talking about the latter leaving has left the former resentful and dissatisfied, resulting in a film that for all its quirks and oddities feels entirely naturalistic.
Clearly a family still affected by grief and the resulting dynamics it gave birth to, Maxime, Gaspard, Virgile and Coline do and don’t react to a series of life-changing events the way you’d expect them to.
Their grief at losing the zoo feels entirely normal as does Coline, whose entire life and persona has been formed and protected by this most particular of cocooned environments, but at the same time, they seem able to pivot and move on as if it doesn’t affect them.
It does, of course, but they seem to make peace with big changes reasonably well; they need to talk them through, yes, but once that’s done, they move on, resulting their closeness and intimacy as if nothing has troubled them.
It’s less cold and unfeeling than warmly pragmatic and while it’s clear this dynamic and the family’s disregard for normal familial boundaries do initially trouble Laura who, naturally enough starts to fall for Gaspard just as he’s fallen for her, she begins to understand that at their unconventional surface, sits a lot of love and devotion.
Gaspard at the Wedding works as well as it does because at the heart of all the twists and turns, pivots and sudden changes of pace and genre, which keep you guessing right until the final rewarding scenes, there beats the heart of a family who will always be there for each other.
Maybe not in the way many of us may be used to but nevertheless, their care and concern for each other is apparent, proof that a dysfunctional family isn’t necessarily an uncaring one.
Suffused with a laidback, emotionally rich sensibility and some languid long, dialogue-free shots which come alive with music by French artist Thylacine – many of these scenes are goosebump-inducing evocative, things of beauty in and of themselves even as they enrich the story of which they are a part – Gaspard at the Wedding is a highly-original, funny, romantic and immensely affecting film that dares to embraces a host of genres and familial peculiarities to deeply rewarding effect.