If I’ve learned one thing from the Quebecois Cinema strand at this year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival it’s that, that part of Canada produces great character actors. From the jaunty opening, Les doigts croches is an unashamedly broad comedy (set somewhat randomly in 1964) that sees five little league losers making a 515-mile pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in order to get their mitts on millions of dollars.
Each member of the ensemble have their moments to shine along the way (horny old man, big grumpy chef, tough little hooligan, typical geek) and each is appealing in their own way. Less so, their self-appointed boss Charles (Roy Dupuis), who’s blue-eyed, lantern-jawed and handsome but admittedly meant to be something of an ass. He’s been dubbed by Maddy, his slinky madam girlfriend, as ‘the world’s worst gangster’. She is of course the smartest of the bunch, tagging along to help (and get her own hands on the cash) like some foxy angel in a great succession of smart peasant chic outfits.
The gang’s task on the pilgrimage is to change. Can a person actually change or are their past actions always an integral part of their present (and future) self? Can, or indeed should, one forgive oneself for past transgressions? Such questions are touched upon briefly, but with some efficiency, and it would be churlish to ask for a deeper philosophical debate to be integrated into such light-hearted fare.
But it’s a bit of a shame that these fundamental existential ideas are discarded by the side of a Camino. On the other hand, obligatory scenes of serious emotion drag (usually because of the involvement of Dupuis) and rather spoil the mood. Because there’s plenty of fun to be had. A rollicking jazz score propels things along very nicely, threatening continually to break into “East St Louis Toodle-oo” (Maddy gets a perfect hot brass theme). There’s a lot of obviousness to it all, from the opening subtitle “having a propensity to thievery” to gags that can usually be guessed about half a second in advance, but that’s what makes it all the more enjoyable.