In 1905, an explorer named Paul Fournier is accidentally frozen during an expedition in the North Pole and is kept in the ice for 65 years, "sleeping" over two world wars, the nuclear age and the first man on the moon. He's finally defrosted in 1970 in semi-vegetative state, but as his health improves, comes the necessity to spare Fournier a shell-shocking revelation. So, in the name of science and the tremendous implications of hibernation for the space program, scientists and the French government agree that no one should inform Fournier about his "hibernation"
. for the moment.
Fournier must believe he is still in 1905. But this is where it gets tricky: he also happens to be the grandfather of a rich businessman's wife who makes a matter of honor to retrieve her ancestor from the cold claws of science. The woman is Edmée Fournier and she's the spouse of Hubert de Tartas, and both are played by the eternal couple of French comedy: Louis de Funès and Claude Gensac.
(And by the way, this review is dedicated to the memory of one of the most delightful faces of French big screen, the eternal 'ma biche' of French cinema, Claude Gensac, who sadly passed away a few days ago. She often complained about her typecasting, she was certainly more than De Funès's wife on the screen, she was like a romantic sidekick. And her pairing with De Funès unveiled her catching joviality, her so-expressive blue eyes and her wonderful comical timing. She was the perfect straight man to her husband's antics, the zen 'yin' to his tempestuous 'yang'. Rest in peace, Mrs. Gensac.)
And now, let's get back to the movie. The premise of a man who must think he's still in "the Belle Epoque" is the stuff funny and intelligent comedies are made on. And just when the Tartas and the physician, played by Michael Lonsdale, decide to keep Fournier in his family property, and with the financial help of the government, relook the whole village (people and vehicles included) into something made in the 1900's, this is the kind of speculative creativity that would remind modern audience of "The Truman Show", although it carries the mark of the director who'd make the original "Birdcage" a few years later. And there's nothing funnier in a comedy than people pretending to be in a specific situation as long as they play it straight, the problem here is that the comical premise of the film is almost spoiled by the predictable tantrums of De Funès.
This makes "Hibernatus" a unique case as it's perhaps the only De Funès movie that could have done better without De Funès, I don't mean in terms of box-office because the film performed well but the story deserved a more nuanced treatment, to be a masterpiece. Instead, it's one of the 'lesser' De Funès films. I feel like blaspheming but this is not a comment on his performance, but the way it parasites the whole premise. When you have people trying to ease a young man's feeling by making believe he's in 1905, you expect situations that will confront him to the manners and ways of the people of the early 70's, you expect contrasts being drawn by tricky conversation and situations. And given how Fournier is young, handsome and chivalrous with ladies, and marvelously played by Bernard Alane, there was a potential overshadowed by De Funès' persona, unless the set-up started early enough to let the other characters have their share of memorable moments.
Indeed, I remember when I first saw the film; it took a surprisingly long amount of time to get to the "set-up". Watching it again, I thought it took forever to get to the point. There's a whole sequence involving the kidnapping of Fournier's body, a helicopter and car chase, Edmée getting high on oxygen, a hiding in a monastery and after many ridiculous and over-the-top disguises and sight gags, it ends with a touching eye contact between Paul and her granddaughter (who conveniently looks like his mother) and then he asks his mother to go home, then the scientist realizes Fournier will be better off with them. Now, why not getting to that part when Hubert and his wife came to the hospital in the first place? That would have been a nice touching moment giving more room for the 1900's plot line, far more interesting than the whole kidnapping 'filler' sequence.
Instead, between Paul's entrance and the final revelation, you don't have more than twenty minutes and it's like all the elements of the story are abruptly solved in a messed up climax, Hubert's son, Didier, played by Oliver de Funès, doesn't look like he's having fun at all, and the only time he laughs is because of some lousy editing during the introductory scene. And the romance between Paul and Didier's sweetheart, the daughter of Hubert's business partner, is treated in a rather abrupt way. Even the poor Paul Preboist, as the goofy butler, doesn't get enough screen time to showcase his comedic talent.
Still, there's one thing left from the film and that belonged to De Funès' greatest moments, the revelation about the mother's identity, a whole speech culminating with a crazy dance and a repeated line that explains why, out of all the female names, they chose "Edmée". This is the film's highlight but it would have been more rewarding had the film been mostly set in the house, like Edouard Molinaro's previous success "Oscar".
"Hibernatus" had the concept but not the treatment. It also belongs to the kind of film De Funès made before his stroke and that saw the culmination of his crazy mimics. But this is perhaps the only time, it undermined a film rather than elevated it. Still it's a classic French comedy, on its own right.
Review by ElMaruecan82 from the Internet Movie Database.