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By Merle Bertrand | September 27, 2007

Patrice (Marc-Andre Grondin) has all the intelligence of a kumquat, but also has a face a mother can love…and oh boy, does she ever! Though Louise (Carole Laure) is still a looker and has plenty of cash, and though it seems she knows she shouldn’t be bedding her own pretty-boy son, the vain but aging socialite just can’t seem to help herself.

This, in turn, drives Patrice’s pretty but disturbed sister Isabelle-Marie (Caroline Dhavernas) to distraction with jealousy. Before you can say “inappropriate bathtub fondling,” Isabelle-Marie is trying to, shall we say, “get a grasp” on the battle for her brother’s affections. Living as they do way out in the boonies, this is clearly a family that needs to get out more.

Then again, maybe not.

Because when Louise goes into town and returns with Lanz (David La Haye), a handsome but pompous moneyed suitor, it sends Patrice into a seething murderous frenzy. Isabelle-Marie, meanwhile, seeks out a group of town kids partying on the family property, gives herself to the first guy who pays her any attention, and winds up pregnant.

Such a summary barely scratches the surface of the strange goings on in director Karim Hussain’s bizarre and very European-feeling black comedy “La Belle Bete.” Based on a 1959 novel by Quebecoise novelist Marie-Claire Blais, “La Belle Bete” covers its sordid ground at a very stately, some might say ponderous pace.

Thick with the kind of subject matter ickiness that leaves behind an oily film, “La Belle Beast” occasionally, thankfully manages to surprise with some splashes of very black humor. Favoring atmosphere and character development over a driving narrative, and mixed with an inexplicable dash of the horrific and queasy surrealism, the disturbing and distasteful “La Belle Bete” will linger in your mind far longer than you’ll probably wish it would.

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