If Takeshi Miike, young Peter Jackson, and John Waters all had a baby together, Bernie would be the result. A satirical and cartoonishly violent film about a mentally disturbed man raised in an orphanage in search of his parents, Albert Dupontel’s debut feature pushes the boundaries of good taste way past any of the safe spaces most people may have built for themselves.
Dupontel stars in his film as well, playing our messed up protagonist. Clearly the result of severely bad parenting, Bernie nevertheless longs for a family he has never known- to the extent of ignoring pretty much every other social rule and construct most of us are bound by. As the plot unfolds, our initial assumptions are inverted, and the results are hilarious- sick, but hilarious- which is what makes Bernie such a gem.
It’s not easy to pull off this kind of perverse humor well- Waters and Miike being two examples of the few that do. Like Waters, Dupontel carries a compassion for his characters that makes it all work- they’re not there to be laughed at but to be used as a mirror for society’s own glaring flaws. Bernie is nuts, but that’s also his saving grace- pure of heart compared to the rest of us, who know better and still let greed and other shallow, self-serving drives guide our lives.
While a lot of people might not be able to stomach the twisted humor, there’s a method to Dupontel’s madness that makes even the most taboo and disturbing topics legitimately funny. A doubly-important film in an age where more and more people have decided to shelter themselves from disturbing ideas, Bernie manages to subvert social norms by making us laugh exactly where we’ve told ourselves not to.
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