One of many peculiar instances in Tip Top is when a detective, Esther (Isabelle Huppert), sticks out a tongue to taste blood dripping from her forehead in a sexual manner. The action is utterly bewildering for its occurrence in a murder case dealing with racial friction, and because it happens at least another five times as if ordinary behaviour.
For better or worse, director Serge Bozon has a frenzied take on Tip Top that’s gloriously and frustratingly all over the place. The two leads, Esther and Sally (Sandrine Kiberlain), are officers investigating the death of an Algerian police informant and find themselves in a world that’s more screwball than Raymond Chandler. At the same time, postcolonial tensions exist in the background and on TV screens. Not that you’d notice given how Bozon opts for a brazen, clowning approach that pits its main duo like a comedy double-act. It isn’t too far away from The Heat, except French, funnier and darker.
Huppert and Kiberlain carry off their roles with cartoonish aplomb. Esther takes a no-nonsense approach and learns everyone’s name in the office, whereas Sally – demoted for being a peeping tom when off-duty – is the fidgety, awkward presence standing a bit behind. Their flittering behaviour is at least a welcome break from a typical film noir detective. Likewise, Huppert’s role makes fun of her arthouse aura by playing Esther as a supremely deadpan figure who eats breakfast from a plate while steering a vehicle. More bizarrely, the duo share one thing in common: sexual quirks that sort of – but not really – define their character. One enjoys sadomasochism in the bedroom; the other prefers to be in a bedroom away from the action, if you get what I mean. The resultant slapstick scenes simply add a cloudy layer to Tip Top that borders on brilliance in its energetic unpredictability, while also a wasted opportunity that doesn’t have much to say. So, ultimately it sits somewhere in the middle.
‘Tip Top’ plays East End Film Festival on 17 June at Barbican Cinema. For more information, click here.