In the best cases, comedy can act as a great unifier on par with music or dance. The simple joys of chuckling at a good bit of physical humor transcend cultural divides, bringing disparate audiences together under the binding forces of laughter. Charlie Chaplin’s legendary dinner-roll ballet, Buster Keaton narrowly avoiding a falling house, even a pudgy cartoon panda sailing into a bamboo stalk face-first; these jokes read no matter who you are because comedy, specifically physical comedy, often shoots for the basest targets in audience response. A viewer doesn’t carefully weigh whether a moment worked and then choose to laugh. It either happens or it doesn’t, a knee-jerk reflex that comes from the most primal parts of the human brain.
But the two selections that screened In Competition on a less-spooky-than-usual Friday the 13th handily illustrated the flip side of this principle. Two films, one German and one French, both exemplified senses of humor a bit more kooky or daring than anything the Hollywood studio system would allow through their gates. When comedies make it to Cannes, they’ve generally got something a little sharper up their sleeve than banana-peel slippage or fart jokes. (Though there’s plenty of room for those, too — the French love a good fart.)
Today’s viewing brought strangeness and familiarity, some welcome and some frustrating. There’s a comforting sort of recognition in getting a good belly laugh while living as a stranger in a strange land, but then again, nobody flies halfway around the world just to eat McDonald’s.