Tip Top is the latest delightful concoction from French fabulist Serge Bozon (La France). It is a dizzying mash-up of screwball comedy and police procedural that reckons with France's colonialist legacy. Farid, an Algerian informant for the French police, is found murdered in a small French town. Two offbeat and unethical female investigators (a fiercely authoritarian Isabelle Huppert paired with an inquisitive and voyeuristic Sandrine Kiberlain) are brought in to investigate the possibility of police involvement with the murder. Meanwhile the seemingly degenerate cop with a heart of gold, Mendes (Francois Damiens), acquires an eager, albeit naive Algerian informant, Younes (Aymen Saidi), who quickly gets into trouble. Bozon delivers fast and whimsical wordplay, erotic misunderstandings, and pinball-sharp comic choreography (Richard Brody, The New Yorker) in this indescribable, irresistible comedy.
When you watch enough obscure cinema, eventually you're going to come across one or two odd ducks. These are movies that seemingly have a purpose or an idea of what they are, but as you watch you struggle to understand the point of the whole endeavor. 2013's 'Tip Top' a French film from Writer and Director Serge Bozon is just one of those films. On paper it makes sense, the description seems intriguing, but when you watch the final product, the premise fails to translate.
In a small French town, a murder has happened. Only this is no ordinary murder - the man that has been killed was an Algerian police informant who was ratting out a local gang. It seems pretty obvious who killed him, but how did the gang know to kill that particular man? That is the question on the mind of police investigators Esther Lafarge (Isabelle Huppert) and her assistant Sally Marinelli (Sandrine Kiberlain). Lafarge is obsessed with protocol needing to know what measures are in place and where they broke down in this particular instance. Marinelli is a bit more focused on human behavior and wants to get to the bottom of the mystery by learning motive. Stuck in between these two out of town investigators is Mendés (Francois Damiens), a rough around the edges police investigator who also happens to be handling a new informant within the Algerian gang. As the three police investigators step on each others shoes and repeatedly butt heads, they run the risk of losing the informant to the rising Arab Spring and thusly allowing the previous informant's murder to remain unsolved and preserving the risk of police corruption.
Sometimes I just do not get French films. I don't say that as someone who never watches them or has a biased opinion against them but as someone that doesn't get the humor in a humorless situation. With 'Tip Top,' taking an event like the Arab Spring and religious extremism and potential terrorism and then trying to wrap a screwball comedy around that just strikes me as odd and in fact a bit tasteless. I think the last time it was okay to make fun of terrorism was in 1994's 'True Lies.' Anything after 2001 kind of feels a bit off putting to say the least.
With the political bent set aside, 'Tip Top' is still an odd film. While it aims to make light of police procedure movies and television shows - something I'm all for - it has central characters that don't actually feel like real people but caricatures and parodies. I get it that Lafarge and Marinelli are supposed to have this rigid versus loose, Holmes versus Watson vibe to them, but in this instance it just doesn't really fit. While Kiberlain and Huppert do well enough with the roles they play, there's just not much to them as the film seems much more interested in making a mockery of a genre rather than telling a story.
I'll give credit for dialogue as it plays fast and loose like it's repeatedly setting up a joke - but at the same time it often feels like there's never a punchline. Or, if there was a punchline - I just didn't get it. Thankfully Damiens' goof off detective Mendés works for some decent comedy - his introduction to the two visiting investigators is particularly funny and awkward, but those comedic moments are few and sadly too far between to hold much interest. In point of fact I repeatedly had to backtrack the film and rewatch several scenes because I just kept feeling like I was missing something.
Maybe that's just it; I missed it. Whatever point Serge Bozon was trying to make, whatever comedic nuances that were peppered in his script all flew right past my head. I can honestly say I tried my best to enjoy this movie, especially since I love French comedies like 'La Cage aux Folles' and the more recent 'OSS 117' films are a hoot as they offer a more delicate balance to their brand of humor. 'Tip Top' just doesn't have any finesse and loses it's sense of humor in the process.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Tip Top' arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber pressed on a BD25 disc and housed in a standard Blu-ray case. The disc opens up directly to the main menu of a static image with navigation options.
I honestly can't figure if 'Tip Top' is supposed to look like this. There are moments where the film's 1.66:1 1080p picture can look very appealing, but most of the time it just looks entirely too bright, as if contrast was kicked up to a point that it makes white's and light colors almost blinding. While it appears that grain structure is intact, it does become difficult to notice small details - especially if the character is wearing white themselves. As a result, there is a lot of color haloing going on as blues and some reds appear to radiate outward. Oddly enough during darker scenes, things feel a bit more balanced, colors don't bleed nearly as much and black levels and shadows can look and feel natural. But then the bright haze creeps back in and throws off the viewing experience. It's a shame because a lot of the framing of this film is beautifully composed but ultimately ruined by the distracting brightness.
'Tip Top' gets a lot of pluck out of it's French DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio mix. For a relatively quiet film, there is actually quite a bit of sound to fill each scene. Most of the film is dialogue loaded so the center channels bare the brunt of the work, but thankfully ambients and the film's score work to fill the remaining channels offering a nice and lively soundtrack. Since this is a dialogue film that's where the mix's focus tends to reside as voices come through with crystal clarity. Sound effects and music have their place, but never over power or compete with the vocals. All around a fine mix that keeps nice and even to the midranges.
Trailer: (HD 1:36) A nice enough trailer that lends one to believe it's a bit more madcap than it actually is.
Deleted Scene: (HD 3:57) it's an odd scene featuring Lafarge going to great lengths to find bugs and leaks within the department. Kind of indicative of the movie as a whole actually. It's just not very funny.
I really didn't know what to expect going in to 'Tip Top' the cover art and the few reviews I located prior to watching the film made it sound like it was some sort of madcap comedy and satire of police procedures. If it's actually funny, I think I hit the language barrier because I just flat out failed to get the humor through much of the film. The video presentation is a bit too bright to be effective. Thankfully the audio comes through just fine. With only a deleted scene and a trailer for extras, I have to suggest folks skip it, or rent it first. It's just not worth a blind buy in my opinion.