By Lisa Schwarzbaum
July 11, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT

Those sublime, precision timed episodes involving mistaken sexual identity at which ”Frasier” writers excel are based on the centuries old principles of French farce. Now foxy old French writer director Francis Veber (”The Dinner Game”) shows how it’s done back home. In the cagey, high gloss comedy The Closet, Daniel Auteuil plays Francois Pignon, a mouse dull man with a puny life: His wife has left him, his son ignores him, and his job as an accountant in a condom factory is about to be eliminated. When he leaks a rumor that he’s gay, however, his job is saved, his personal stock rises, and in time he raises the consciousness of everyone around him.

Those around him include his crass, macho coworker (Gérard Depardieu), a gay baiter in need of reform, who reluctantly befriends Pignon out of fear of losing his own job. The pleasing sight of two reigning French stars flirting in a lunch scene, supported by a cast of equally lustrous comedians (among them Thierry Lhermitte, Michel Aumont, and Jean Rochefort) adds to the pleasures of this perfectly built French tickler.