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Saturday, December 10, 2011


This French film of late 1969 was released in other European countries, but never in english. Hibernatus is listed as a comedy sci-fi. It is a light comedy in the Rip Van Winkle motif, mostly built around comedy star Louis de Funès. It is "lite" as far as science fiction goes, involving only a touch of cryogenics talk and a couple mentions of hibernating astronauts. Being scant on science has not been too unusual in the ranks of sci-fi films. As a strictly foreign film, that would normally put Hibernatus outside of this study, but it does make a nicer note to end this tour of 1969 than on, than the everybody-dies film Genocide.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A team of arctic explorers conduct some blasts on the polar ice. In the crater are two shoes sticking out of the solid ice. Men cut out the block of ice with the man in it and ship it back to France. Also found nearby in the ice is wreckage of the ship La Galand, lost in 1905. Scientists are amazed that, as he thaws, the ice man is still alive. News of this thrills France, and almost upstages a dinner party held by Hubert Tartas, CEO of a factory. He announces the engagement of his son, Didier to Evelyn, daughter of another CEO. During the party, Tartas becomes obsessed with everyone else at the party wearing lapel pins of the Legion of Honor. A telegram arrives from the Secretary of Internal Affairs. Tartas is certain this means he will be awarded the medal too. At the Secretary's office, however, the news is that the ice man turns out to be Tartas' wife's grandfather. Preposterous! No. Paul fell into a vat of glycerine, which the La Galand was carrying when it hit the ice. The glycerine protected Paul's cells so he lived in hibernation. Once shaven, Edmee does recognize him as her grandfather. The scientists worry that Paul's health is very fragile. Any shock could kill him. Since outer space is key to national prestige (and hibernated astronauts the key to outer space), the government finance restoring Tartas' hotel back to how it looked in 1905. Only vintage attire and automobiles are allowed in the area. Paul wakes up, but thinks Edmee is his mother. Everyone plays along. Tartas is dressed up to look like Paul's father, but Paul chases him off in a rage. (they were divorced over an affair with an actress). This allows Tartas to appear as himself (in costume) as a suitor for Edmee. Many hi-jinx ensue. It turns out that Paul is keen on Evelyne. She and Didier didn't love each other anyway. Didier likes Sophie, the pretty maid. When Tartas sees his arranged marriage collapsing, he loses his cool and tells Paul all about modern life in 1970, figuring that if the shock killed Paul, his dream of corporate empire via marriage might be salvaged. Paul doesn't die of shock. Instead, he is intrigued. He watches a TV program about jets and the Concorde. It's true. Paul and Evelyn are in love, so get married. Tartas, at wits end, decides to have himself cryogenically frozen so he can wake up in 50 years live happily ever after. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
It's a comedy. It's supposed to be fun. There are, no doubt, subtle bits of humor that only the French might pick up on. But, there is much about Funès' frantic and physical style of humor that transcend language.

Cold War Angle
There is some reference to the space race, but no reference to Cold War or communists. Hibernatus is lite fare, not heavy commentary.

Funny Funès -- Louis de Funès was a leading comedy actor in France in the 60s and 70s. He excelled at physical humor -- high-strung and accident-prone characters. His style seems like a cross between the Three Stooges and Jerry Lewis or John Cleese. Funès' style is 90% of the film.

Gags of Note -- Some of the set-piece gags which transcend language are:
The Waiter Gag, in which waiter George keeps walking in front of Tartas as he's trying to announce the engagement of his son.
Legion Lust, in which Tartas notices that everyone -- even his butler Geroge -- is wearing the little red rosette of the Legion of Honor. Obsessed, Tartas keeps trying to steal the pin off his lawyer's lapel.
Hidden Husband, has Tartas hiding under Edmee's bed when Paul rushes in to read his love poem to Evelyne. Tartas keeps bumping up the bed to show his disapproval. Edmee repeatedly pretends nothing happened.
Climactic Frenzy, comes when Tartas tries to shock Paul with news of 1970. Here, Funès is at his animated best as the crazed middle-aged man.

Costume Ball -- Of some visual interest is the total shift from 1969 fashion and technology (such as the slick "moderne" hospital) to the late victorian era costumes, carriages, cars and decor. There is a subtle amusement at seeing people in old (stuffy) fashioned clothes acting silly.

Bottom line? Hibernatus will not be easy to find. Nor is it necessarily worth great pursuit. As a comedy, it's amusing. As a sci-fi, it's almost too thin to merit the label. Fans of Funès get a generous dose. Those unaware of Funès get a good introduction.

1 comment:

danish said...

I really like this types of Moves ....!!

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