Being middle class in a first world country is a tough racket. You just can’t ever get where you want to be. You know, buying the things you want, taking the vacations to placed you’d like to see, driving fancy cars and eating fine foods. For the middle class, there’s always an eye to something better — and in most stories like this, there’s little appreciation for what one has until it all comes crashing down. Such is the tale of Borderline, a French dark comedy about a family that looks a little too far to the sky when opportunity comes their way, only to have it all come back to haunt them.
David and Christine are the attractive, totally boring middle class couple in question. He is a lawyer who is all but certain he will never make partner at his firm, a total square who smokes in the basement to hide from his wife and kids. She’s a hot tempered working mom whose beauty has been worn down by life’s many stresses. What they both need is a break, otherwise their marriage is about to crumble. That comes in the form of a happenstance encounter David has while walking his dog through the park. He’s bumped into by a man sprinting away from police, finding that in all the confusion, the man has dropped a duffle bag. Inside is a few large bags of cocaine. You know, the usual. In an inspired and foolhardy moment, David decides that this bag of coke is his way out of his slump, and he begins dealing. Soon he’s got the wife in on the game and they are slinging all over town, bringing a level of middle-class work ethic and professionalism to the local drug trade. It’s the perfect exit strategy — until the rightful owner of the cocaine comes looking for it.
It’s not an unfamiliar story to those of us in the US who subscribe to Showtime, it’s got plenty in common with the breakout show Weeds. Suburban people becoming fishes out of water in the seedy world of dealing drugs in order to support their families. Where Borderline and its director Alexandre Coffre succeed most is in the character work. François Damiens and Pascale Arbillot (David and Christine, respectively) have great chemistry on-screen and are able to give their characters depth that supersedes language and cultural barriers. Through them, we see the universal struggle between greed and honor, as fought by two imperfect people. This depth of character allows us to connect with the characters, despite their deeds, and allows Coffre’s frantic payoff to feel earned.
At times, the comedy is pitch black, especially as the film’s villain (Gilles Cohen) comes into play. But it’s also so brilliantly well timed and constructed. Watching David and Christine become super-dealers from their suburban basement is a joy to watch. And watching it all come undone quickly is a tense affair. It’s all part of a hard-earned atmosphere created by Coffre’s script, the careful and inventive eye of his cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines and the inspired performances of his leads. It also benefits from finding every ounce of humor in an already loaded farce, capitalizing on every opportunity to deliver laughs and thrills in equal measure.
The Upside: It’s a simply funny, darkly comedic piece that flows nicely and is anchored by two excellent performances.
The Downside: It’s hard out there for a souteneur.