This week, I attended another screening at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center’s French Film series, seeing the new comedy, “Struggle For Life” (AKA “La Loi de la jungle”).
When a pair of French Government workers get lost in a Guyanese jungle, will the jungle do them in before they can return to civilization?
When Châtaigne (Vincent Macaigne) is late for an appointment with the director of the Ministry of the Standard, he finds that in order to get a job, he is forced to accept the only assignment available: travel to French Guyana in order to supervise the construction of an indoor skiing slope intended to increase tourism. Châtaigne is charged with ensuring that the structure meets ISO-9001 specifications, as per French regulations. Despite the fact that this isn’t exactly a plum assignment, Châtaigne heads immediately to Guyana – in part because he’s desperate for the job and in part because he’s being hotly pursued by a tax assessor who wants him jailed for money he owes the government.
Upon reaching the government offices in Guyana, Châtaigne is assigned a driver who will shuttle him to the construction site – Tarzan (Vimala Pons), a beautiful, sexy young woman working for The National Forestry Office on a different project. Since she was initially stationed there as an engineer, she resents being forced to serve as Châtaigne’s chauffeur. Realizing that her assignment will end soon, she performs her driving duties with plenty of attitude. Since Châtaigne is focused on completing his job in a timely fashion, he seems determined to try to ignore Tarzan’s lack of cooperation.
One day while driving out of the jungle, their vehicle gets into an accident and they are forced to travel the rest of the way on foot. Armed with a GPS on his trusty smartphone, Châtaigne insists they go through the jungle rather than take the road (which itself is fraught with its own set of dangers). Their bad luck continues when they lose the phone and find themselves resuming their trek using only their instinct. Having to sidestep the various innate hazards of the jungle – poisonous flora, dangerous creatures and bands of marauders – can they manage to make their way out before meeting their demise?
These two characters aren’t the only ones lost – the audience will feel a bit lost also as this tangled story unfolds. The difference between story and plot is that story is an account of what’s being told and plot is how you tell that story. In this movie, both seem a bit muddled. Absurdity and nonsense can be valuable assets in a comedy (see anything by Monty Python), but this one has absurdity that doesn’t even make sense in the crazy universe these characters inhabit. This film tries to be a slapstick comedy that’s a mash-up of Woody Allen, Jerry Lewis and perhaps others (someone at the screening likened it to “That Man from Rio” starring Jean-Paul Belmondo). Unfortunately, although the jokes come at a fast and furious pace, they are haphazard at best.
The romance that develops between Châtaigne and Tarzan is difficult to believe because she is incredibly hot while he is incredibly not. One of the funnier scenes occurs when they are over-served a powerful aphrodisiac and wind up out-of-control horny, culminating in a rather frantic tryst. This, however, manages to move the story forward because their previously antagonistic relationship changes at this point and they suddenly find themselves friendlier. However, there are other plot points that don’t make quite so much sense, not the least of which being how they the search party will actually find them in the vastness of the jungle (which never gets clearly explained). Speaking of things that make little sense, let’s also consider the English version of the title, “Struggle For Life”; the French title translates into “The Law Of The Jungle”, which sounds like it could be a comedy. On the other hand, “Struggle For Life” sounds more like a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime network about someone with a terminal illness.
Following the screening, there was a brief interview with director Antonin Peretjatko. He said that part of the inspiration for this movie came from an actual trip he made to French Guyana. During that time, he was introduced to a bridge that had been built by the French government during the Chirac administration; the bridge was designed as a connection between Guyana and Brazil. Although the bridge had been built to meet French engineering standards, it goes unused because of government bureaucracy: according to French regulations, all vehicles must have insurance, but in Brazil, insurance is not required. As a result, guards are stationed on the Guyana side to ensure no cars drive across it in either direction – however, since it is so famous in both countries, no one ever attempts to use the bridge, so the guards wind up having a very boring job.