It's been 12 years since Thelma and Louise sent that Thunderbird convertible soaring off into infinity, but the French film Chaos, which also features a pair of women who've been casually and not-so-casually brutalized by men, suggests that nothing's changed in the interim. Men are still pigs, and women are still expected to clean up the sty. "My life's a mess. So is yours," HÃlÃne (Catherine Frot), a Parisian bourgeois, tells NoÃmie (Rachida Brakni), an Algerian-born prostitute. And that's their bond: They're both oppressed. HÃlÃne is all but invisible to her jerk of a husband (Vincent Lindon) and jerk of a son (AurÃlien Wiik) unless she should forget to put food on the table. As for NoÃmie, she's endured years of abuse ' sold by her father at age 16 to an Algerian businessman, then enslaved by a prostitution ring, which, as part of her schooling, had her beaten and raped eight to 10 times a day.
A sense of proportion might cause one to believe that NoÃmie has had it worse than HÃlÃne, but writer-director Coline Serreau doesn't have a sense of proportion, she has a sense of humor. Nearly 20 years ago, Serreau directed the original French version of Three Men and a Baby, which was called Three Men and a Cradle, so she knows how to do a straight-ahead comedy. But Chaos isn't a straight-ahead comedy, it's a slightly askew comedy. In fact, the opening isn't even funny. Driving to some function, HÃlÃne and her husband nearly run over NoÃmie, who's being chased by three thugs. And instead of getting out to help, hubby rolls up the window, which is soon splattered with blood. A quick run to the car wash, and he's ready to get on with his life. But something clicks in HÃlÃne, who visits NoÃmie in the hospital, nurses her back to health and helps her wreak revenge on her former captors.
Chaos works best as a revenge fantasy ' women sticking it to the men who've been sticking it to them. For a comedy, it's not exactly a barrel of laughs, but the light tone that Serreau keeps coming back to does help take the edge off. Otherwise, the women in the audience might find themselves fiddling through their purses for the keys to the T-bird.