Would you pretend to be gay in order to keep your job? That's the dilemma facing the dull but decidedly hetrosexual Daniel Auteuil in this satirical French smash.
Occasionally--mainly out of desperation--a sitcom will detail the supposedly humorous antics that arise when one of its straight protagonists is mistaken for gay. Invariably, it involves a pass and a subsequent rejection. Not so with The Closet. Writer and director Francis Veber uses this slight premise to vividly dissect the politics that drive today's workplace. François (Auteuil) overhears plans for his firing. He's dull, but not the idiot that thuggish rival Felix (Gérard Depardieu) makes him out to be. To prevent François from committing suicide, his neighbor Belone (Michel Aumont) tells him to pretend to come out of the closet. The company could face accusations of homophobia should it fire him, Belone reasons. Doctored photos of François groping a man soon arrive at work. His colleagues assume that he's gay; his job is safe, but there are those who question François.
Such is Auteuil's initial blankness that it does not become apparent that François is fighting such dark demons until his halfhearted suicide bid. Being fired is the last straw. He still loves his ex-wife. His son refuses to see him. Posing as gay, as ridiculous it may seem, offers him a reason to live. Slowly and subtly, over the course of the ruse, Auteuil reveals François' rainbow-bright colors. He also allows François to find honor in even the most potentially embarrassing situation, in particular his participation in a very public gay pride parade. In contrast, a slightly over-the-top Depardieu makes no bones about playing a boorish, spiteful, racist, homophobic clod deserving of the hysterical comeuppance he receives. Then again, the dexterous Depardieu manages to find a modicum of goodness in Felix, so we are willing to give him the same second chance that François does.
Veber is famous for churning out the French hits that Hollywood loves to remake, but unfortunately for Hollywood, something nearly always gets lost in the translation. Veber's straightforwardly directed French films, stripped as they are of stylized comedic embellishments, are usually smarter and funnier than their Americanized counterparts (witness The Birdcage). Sure, The Closet is predictable. You know that someone will see through François' deception. But Veber never allows the proceedings to turn malicious. Instead, he allows his cast to articulate the script's humor while focusing on the whispers, the innuendoes and the machinations that one must endure in an office environment. It's all done with the intention of zeroing in on people's prejudices and making them aware of the idiocy of their beliefs and misconceptions.
Funny and provocative without being offensive, The Closet will no doubt end up being remade--as a gay-themed Dilbert cartoon--by Hollywood.