When the film starts, we see Eddy Ricaart (Benoît Poelvoorde) at the gate of a prison, as if reluctant to get out. He had only an Algerian in a truck waiting for him : Osman Bricha (Roschdy Zem) whose life he once saved. Osman drives him to his barely furnished home in a caravan site in the suburbs where he lives with his 8 year-old-daughter Samira (Séli Gmach) with little more the most the basic furniture: no telephone, no TV, no washing machine and an unrepaired refrigerator. Osman offers him another broken down caravan a little distance off. Osman works as an assistant worker driving a truck and helps to fix broken city lights (allusion to one of Chaplin's film?). His wife is in hospital because of a serious injury to her pelvis as a result of overwork as a cleaner. As Osman does not have medical insurance and is an illegal immigrant only married by an Imam in a mosque but has no formal papers to prove that he is legally married under Swiss law, he is not entitled to claim social security for the relevant medical expenses for his wife's treatment. He tries to get a bank loan for the 50,000 Swiss Francs needed but is refused. All that the bank's credit officer would offer him on his salary is 5,000 Swiss francs to be repaid each month of 100 to 200. Inspired by a TV documentary on the life of Charlie Chaplin indicating how rich he was, Eddy got a "brilliant" idea of how they could get the money: they would steal the corpse of Charlie Chaplin and demand a huge ransom. He thought it was an excellent idea because it didn't involve the risk of any killing or violence because the man was already dead. Osman said he was crazy. But when Osman found that there was no way he could find the money, he became desperate and decided reluctantly that they would give it a try. The film is about how they bungled up the "random demanding" portion of their plan: Eddy telephoned the Chaplin family from a public phone booth, disguising his voice by muffling the mouthpiece of the telephone, identifying himself as "Mr. Money" and demanding to speak to Mr. Chaplin ! It was treated as a joke.
The following day, Eddy spoke through the same public telephone booth to the Chaplin family squeezing his nostril to prevent voice identification and when the voice on the other side of the telephone expressed surprise at the huge amount, he immediately lowered the figure on a "commercial basis" from 1 million to 500,000 Swiss francs but the other side demanded proof that he got the coffin. So Eddy and Osman went back to where they buried the coffin and produced several photos which they sent to the Chaplin family. Then they got to decide where to deliver the money. They named the spot but due to a pure accident, the money was taken by two strangers who just thought they had removed a briefcase. But as the police were ready, these two two strangers were arrested. Then Eddy made the demand again for the fourth time but Osman found Eddy so clumsy that he took over the phone and lowered the figure to just 50,000 Swiss francs as the final "offer" and told the other side that they would telephone them where to deliver the money the following day at 3 p.m. The police had all the public telephone booths in the small town monitored and when they made an appearance, they were instantly arrested. They led the police to where they hid the coffin and were brought to trial. After knowing of why they wanted to do this totally incompetent and amateurish "kidnap", the Chaplin family did not wish to press charges but the police insisted on going on with the trial. In the end, they were found guilty by the judge but did not have to go to jail because their defense counsel urged that it was a more like a joke than a real kidnapping in which no one really suffered any real loss and that in all likelihood Chaplin would certainly have sympathized with such the miseries of such poor immigrants at their wits end to get some much needed money, as Chaplin himself was an immigrant like the two "criminals". In fact, they paid Osman's hospital charges for them. When the film ends, we find Osman and his wife and daughter bringing some flowers before the Chaplin's newly renovated grave and thanking him for all he did. After the screen credits, we are shown two young men removing a bronze statue of Chaplin at the lakeside and transporting it into their van. Are they thieves who love Chaplin so much that they had to have his statue or do they just want its value in scrap bronze?
It's a very simple film about the plight of the poor and destitute immigrant workers in Switzerland. Perhaps Beauvois wants to show how even "criminals" might have a "human" face, just like ordinary people, with all their problems, their plights, their weaknesses and their "folly": Eddy takes Samira for an enjoyable ride on the lake, then to a fair ground and the circus, something she had never been to and teaches her French and seems an otherwise amiable enough fellow. Samira says she wants to become a veterinarian when she grows up but once Osman finds out that it requires 5 years of college education, he told her that it is absolutely out of the question and that she got to work the moment she finishes her baccalaureat. But Eddy consoles her that she could work at the zoo as an alternative but she refuses to hear him. By accident, Eddy was asked by a lady Russian equestrian to improvise as a clown because one of the two circus clown has just resigned. Eddy did gave an acceptable performance without any training. Maybe we are supposed to find Eddy's last minute improvising as a circus clown a hint that he's a "natural" clown. However, since what he is playing is very far from funny, are we to think that the real point is may be that behind what superficially appears "funny", there's usually a sob story, as Chaplin's "comedies" were? When Beuavois said during the Q & A session at the end of the film that he intended the film as a tribute to Chaplin, this really seems a likely explanation.
The acting by Benoît Poelvoorde, Roschdy Zem and Séli Gmach are good but they are not good enough to salvage the rather too subtle "message" of Beauvois and the rather loose "plot". To me, maybe the rather grandiose music by Michel Legrand being played when the two bumbling criminals were driving on their "mission" to "kidnap" the Chaplin's corpse was intended by the composer to bring out the dramatic irony between the the pettiness of the "crime" by the two bunglers by contrasting between the two worlds: the rich, famous and orderly and the poor and down and out and disorganized on the verge of disintegration, something evident by the deliberate jazzy and jarring sound right in the middle of the main classical melody played out very loudly by the orchestra? If not, then I can't find any rapport between the music and the action unfurling on the screen.