Series Mania 2023 Review: RICTUS, Orwellian Dystopia Depicted As New French Burlesque
Fred Testot stars in Marion Festraëts and Arnaud Malherbe's absurdist comedy about a totalitarian state that oppresses and persecutes citizens who laugh.
Rictus, an absurd dystopian series created by Arnaud Malherbe and Marion Festraëts, delves into a world where political correctness has reached such extremes that laughter is forbidden. In this Orwellian satire, the laughter police patrol every social interaction and private moment to prevent any trace of chuckles and chortles from emerging.
Fred Testot stars as Steph, a model husband and loyal employee of a surveillance department responsible for upholding the laughter ban. He is a cog in this totalitarian machine. However, his adherence to the rules starts to crumble with the arrival of a new intern, Céline (Ophélia Kolb), whose laughter is triggered by Steph's peculiar, involuntary grimaces.
Céline's lack of self-control puts both of them in danger and threatens Steph's flawless work record. An internal investigation is launched to track the source of the muffled laughter, as the company cannot tolerate transgressors within its own ranks.
In a twist reminiscent of "who watches the watchmen," the company gathers all employees into a single hall and subjects them to the torturous practices of its cruelest lieutenants. Rictus is a French absurdist satire that blends cringe comedy, awkwardness, and classic slapstick humor.
As Steph and Céline survive the first round of internal purges, they seek help from an underground group, strongly ressembling Laughers Anonymous, to address Céline's spontaneous giggling. The series takes on the shape of a refugee spy thriller, filled with awkward jokes, hinting at a rebellion to overthrow the dictatorship of forbidden laughter.
Festraëts and Malherbe's series toys with well-known tropes that its creators twist for the purposes of skewering the realm of a totalitarian state and proving how drab life without laughter would be. The show boasts a distinct retro-futuristic production design, reminiscent of the British cult classic The Mighty Boosh. Rictus even has its own Naboo, a character portrayed by Youssef Hajdi as a snooping colleague paranoid about the probe.
The series balances cringe and nonsensical humor, with the first episodes not entirely revealing the creators' political intent. However, the pro-laughter uprising is imminent. Rictus is a conceptual comedy, a speculative fiction testing the boundaries of dystopic genre in the comedy department, and ultimately, an episodic addition to the new French burlesque movement.
Rictus won the prize for the best series in comedy competition by the Jury Lycéen de la Région Hauts-de-France.