While driving to some fancy dinner or gala event one evening, Paris couple Paul (Vincent Lindon) and Helene (Catherine Frot) see a frantic woman running toward them, fleeing a trio of Three Stooge-looking roughians. Paul locks the doors. After the girl’s face is beaten against their windshield, he reacts by driving to a car wash. This is not the first time Helene has been dissatisfied with her husband’s behavior, we suspect, but it might wind up being the last straw.
This is “Chaos,” a movie from writer/director Coline Serreau (“3 hommes et un couffin,” the film on which “Three Men and a Baby” was based) that is not the slightest bit chaotic, really, but that is energetic, darkly funny and engaging from beginning to end.
The morning after the beating, we see Helene’s life. Paul, an ultra-busy, joyless business executive, hides from his aged mother (Line Renaud), to whom Helene must make excuses. Helene’s own son, Fabrice (Aurelien Wiik), pulls the same kind of stunt with her when she visits his college apartment. She has no one, and now she wonders about that poor woman she saw beaten up.
She tracks down the hospital she was taken to and begins visiting her regularly, even while she’s still in a coma. Meanwhile, the three guys chasing her — her pimps, it turns out — come to call, still wanting something she’s got. It is during one pimp’s second visit that Helene takes action and we realize where this is going: This is female-empowerment, you-go-girl pulp fiction, and it’s a great chunk of it, too!
Once the girl, named Noemie (Rachida Brakni), is up and about, she and Helene become a sort of Thelma and Louise duo, fleeing, deceiving and manipulating the leaders of the prostitution ring Noemie had been dragged into. There’s also some justice to be done to old Paul, and the swaggering lothario Fabrice gets his, too. The women aren’t malicious in what they do — this isn’t “Kill Bill”-style revenge — and they’re more frightened than confident as they go about it.
It’s the sort of movie where everyone gets what they deserve, and you love seeing it happen. Does it all happen a bit too easily? Yeah, maybe. There are many loose ends — I haven’t even mentioned Noemie’s family back in Algiers — and they get tied up rather quickly, some of them, as the film breezes through its whimsically devious finale. I’m not sure if that’s a criticism or not, though, considering how satisfying it is to see justice done, even when it’s done hurriedly.
Catherine Frot and Rachida Brakni are a wonderfully amusing and sympathetic pair, conveying character and motivation even in a film driven mostly by plot rather than people. Male or female, victims or not, we can all appreciate the joy in setting things right and standing up for oneself.
B (1 hr., 48 min.; French with English subtitles; )