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Thread: SFFS French Cinema Now Seeries, Oct 24-30, 2012

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    SFFS French Cinema Now Seeries, Oct 24-30, 2012



    The San Francisco Film Society French Cinema Now series
    Oct. 24-30, 2012

    Index to links to my reviews:

    Alyah (Elie Wajeman 2012)--FCN
    All Together (Stéphane Robelin 2012)--FCN
    Camille Rewinds (Noémie Lvovsky 2012)--NYFF 2012
    Donoma (Djinn Carrénard 2011)--ND/NF 2012
    Hores Satan (Bruno Dumont 2011)--Paris Movie Report II 2011
    Louise Wimmer (Cyrile Mennegun 2011)--R-V 2012
    Mobile Home (Francois Pirot 2012)--FCN
    My Worst Nightmare (Anne Fontaine 2011)--FCN
    Sister (Ursula Meier 2011)--Paris Movie Report (May 2012)
    World Without Women , A (Guillaume Brac 2012)--FCN


    General Forum notification and discussion thread for this series here.

    Following is the schedule (with festival blurbs) of the SFFS French film series, which shows at Landmark's Embarcadero Cinemas in San Francisco at the times given below. I've already reviewed three of these films (see links) and plan to be reviewing some others, including Copocabana, A Real Life, and The Princess of Monpensier.

    Camille Rewinds
    Noémie Lvovsky (Camille redouble, France 2012)

    OPENING NIGHT FILM Camille, a 40-something mother in the midst of a painful divorce from her high-school sweetheart, gets the chance when she passes out at a New Year’s Eve party and wakes up back in the ’80s where everyone reacts to her as if she were 16 again.
    Wednesday October 24, 6:30 pm, Saturday October 27, 3:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    Donoma
    Djinn Carrenard (France 2011)

    This bold and confident first feature from Haitian filmmaker Djinn Carrénard layers issues of race, class, religion and gender within a variety of intersecting storylines involving multiple youngsters in Paris.
    Wednesday October 24, 9:15 pm
    Sunday, October 28, 1:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    Alyah
    Elie Wajeman (Alyah, France 2012)

    Lacking the spiritual motivation that spurs many Jews to make Alyah—a return to the Holy Land—low-level drug dealer Alex instead sees it as a chance to escape his current life, specifically the burden of his older brother Isaac, who is perpetually on the brink of disaster. Thursday, October 25, 6:30 pm
    Monday, October 29, 9:00 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    My Worst Nightmare
    Anne Fontaine (Mon pire cauchemar, France 2011)

    Opposites collide to humorous effect in Anne Fontaine's satire of the Parisian bourgeois. An uptight gallerist and her partner hire a boorish Belgian construction worker for a remodeling job and he teaches them both how to enjoy life a bit more.
    Thursday October 25, 8:45 pm
    Saturday October 27, 6:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    All Together
    Stéphane Robelin (Et si on vivait tous ensemble?, France/Germany 2011
    )
    Set against the backdrop of France's economic crisis, this trenchant crowd-pleaser depicts a group of elderly friends who decide to pool their resources and live out their sunset years under the same roof. Friday, October 26, 4:00pm
    Saturday, October 27, 1:15pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    Mobile Home
    François Pirot (Belgium/Luxembourg/France 2012)

    Simon and Julien are handsome girl chasers, handicapped by the fact that they are out of work and living with their parents. Using money that his folks had set aside for his future, Simon decides to buy the titular vehicle and asks his best pal to join him on the road toward new adventures and locales.
    Friday October 26, 6:30pm
    Sunday October 28, 9:00 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    A World Without Women
    Guillaume Brac (Un monde sans femmes, France 2011)

    Patricia and her daughter Juliette have rented a cottage in a lazy, beachfront town. Both of them play a back-and-forth emotional tease with Sylvain, the flat's schlubby proprietor, and the resulting psychological effects on all parties are explored with subtlety and impressive acting.
    Friday October 26, 9:15 pm
    Sunday October 28, 6:30 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    Hors Satan
    Bruno Dumont (France 2011)

    Suffused with elemental images—fire, sky, sea, land—Bruno Dumont's latest provocation concerns an unnamed drifter disturbing the balance in a seaside town.
    Saturday October 27, 9:00 pm
    Monday October 29, 6:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    Louise Wimmer
    Cyril Mennegun (France 2011)

    This devastating portrait of a middle-aged woman living out of her car puts a compelling face on the millions of people suffering from Europe's current financial woes.
    Sunday October 28, 4:30 pm
    Tuesday October 30, 9:00 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema Buy Tickets

    Sister
    Ursula Meier (L’enfant d’en Haut, France/Switzerland 2011
    )
    Reminiscent of the brand of social realism perfected by the Dardennes brothers and starring Léa Seydoux, this is a powerfully acted story of siblings living in the proximity of a Swiss ski resort.
    Tuesday October 30, 6:15 pm
    Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-17-2013 at 12:08 PM.

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    MY WORST NIGHTMARE (Anne Fontaine 2011)

    ANNE FONTAINE: MY WORST NIGHTMARE (2011)



    Taming a ball-buster, sort of

    In this utterly conventional French bourgeois comedy, Isabelle Huppert plays a role she can do in her sleep, the haughty, contemptuous dame who has just a tiny bit of heart underneath the cold façade. Into the life of Agathe (Huppert) and her longtime companion François (André Dusollier), a wealthy publisher, comes Patrick (Benoît Poelvoorde), an earthy Belgian handyman living out out of a truck with his son, Tony (Corentin Devroey). Their pretty, long-haired son Adrien (Donatien Suner) and Tony are schoolmates and become pals. Tony seems good to have around when he turns out to be brilliant, while Adrien is a lousy student. Then Patrick worms his way into their lives, palling around with the malleable François and wangling a big construction job in their fancy flat near the Jardin du Luxembourg, which naturally he winds up trashing. And of course Patrick winds up in bed with both the maid and Agathe, and she and François save Tony from being kicked out of the school and put into foster care for being homeless. For an American audience this movie seems ridden with cliches, but the way it satirizes upper middle class French snobbism -- and the crudity of Belgian plebes -- serves for a French audience as worthwhile social commentary, and the sitcom-y laughs do flow pretty smoothly. Production values are typically impeccable and the cast is excellent -- but you can't help wishing the effort had been devoted to material with more depth.

    The elegantly insufferable Agathe Novic is essentially the role Huppert played in Me and My Sister, with Catherine Frot as the "nice" country sister, Huppert as the sophisticated city bitch who bends a bit in the end. In that one her unfortunate hubby was François Berléand, who was also paired with her in Jacquot's The School of Flesh and Chabrol's Comedy of Power (sometimes the French cast list seems pretty small). This time it's the veteran André Dusollier, so often paired with Alain Renais muse Sabine Azéma, as he was in Étienne Chatiliez's more original bourgeois domestic comedy, Tanguy. And -- remember about the small cast list -- Tanguy featured Éric Berger as the blandly maddening son approaching thirty who won't move out of their posh Parisian apartment. Berger appears here as one of Huppert's underlings. She's a gallerist so bitchy all she does is abuse her employees and reject everything they do. She won't allow a white undercoat on a wall that will be painted black to set off a Mapplethorpe photograph because she thinks discerning clients will detect the white under three coats of black. It's like the princess and the pea.

    Most of the attention focuses on Poelvoorde, whom Anne Fontaine cast as the rich aristo Étienne Balsan who kept Coco Chanel as his mistress in her better, but still underwhelming previous film Coco Before Chanel. Poelvoorde is the engine and the energy of this movie, and he skates nicely on the edge between handyman and seducer. In shirtsleeves he's a plebe, but if he puts on a dark jacket he can plausibly join Agathe for a drink. He keeps a stream of expletive-laced and sexual chatter going that François seems half charmed by and Agathe is too crusty to acknowledge. Its outlandishness is of course funnier in French.

    This whole movie is at three removes from the plausible, but least likely is François's sudden liaison with Julie (Virginie Efira), Patrick's social worker, who's young and pretty and exaggeratedly New Age, an arborial hobbyist who takes François on a weekend "date" climbing giant trees. More improbable things happen to fill out a plot that sees Tony moving in with Adrien and Agathe actually marrying Patrick (so much for marriage) to save his son's local resident status. Episodes in Belgium visiting Patrick's brother who runs a sort of porno carwash, and back in Paris where a photo by conceptual art photorapher Hiroshi Sugimoto (who appears in person, mouting art banalities about color) gets phallicly vandalized, are best forgotten but I fear may haunt me forever. In fact this movie already seemed so familiar I'm not sure if I saw it in Paris or just saw trailers of it there. Note: Fontaine's film before Coco, The Girl From Monaco (R-V 2009), utilized actors of the caliber of Fabrice Luchini, Roschdy Zem and Stéphane Audran for a busy, ultimately lackluster comedy. It's looking as if Fontaine's best work is behind her.

    Reviewed as part of the San Francisco Film Society's October 2012 series, French Cinema Now. Mon pire cauchemar , 103 min., showed at Toronto in Sept. 2011 and opened Nov. 9 of that year in Paris, with decent French reviews (Allociné press rating: 3.0). It opened in limited US release Oct. 19, 2012, but here the reviews have been pretty unfavorable (Metacritic: 42): Stephen Holden panned it in the NY Times.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-29-2012 at 01:12 AM.

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    ALL TOGETHER (Stéphane Robelin 2012)

    STÉPHANE ROBELIN: ALL TOGETHER (2012)


    CHAPLIN, BELOS, RICH, BRÜHL, RICHARD, AND FONDA OF ALL TOGETHER

    When we're 77

    This quiet French drama is a light but still serious study of five older people, two couples, one single man, all great friends since the Sixties, and a young German guy hired to help when they all decide to move in together. They do, and stuff happens. That's all there is too it, really. The action is meandering, episodic, but despite an elegant restraint and a light touch Robelin delivers some keen observations of what it's like growing old. Within its limits, which never seem like constraints, the film is a representation of the dignity despite indignities that being a septuagenarian can represent. There's life in the old coots yet. Their sex drive isn't gone. Neither is their passion about things that happened forty years ago. There is not great depth or detail in the characters. But the point perhaps is precisely to present aging in a way that's both idealized and realistic. Why should not older people have models, and models of life shared in dignity with others their age? You die, but you can die with grace. Not all of this is "realistic," but maybe "realism" isn't the best way of facing life's last act. What you need is stubbornness and panache. One character is going to die soon, but she buys a pink coffin and specifies that her friends drink champagne over it.

    We begin with the cast, all good looking and charmers. Therapist Annie is played by the 67-year-old Geraldine Chaplin, whose character is married to Jean (the handsome Guy Belos, 77), a long-time political activist and the one who proposes the communal living, though it will take place in the big house Annie, not he, inherited. Former Philo prof Jeanne is played by Jane Fonda, 74, showing off a fluency in French dating from her 1965-1973 marriage to Roger Vadim. This is her first French role since Jean-Luc Godard’s 1972 Tout Va Bien. All is not going well for Jeanne, who is dying of cancer and knows it but has hidden it from her husband, Albert (Pierre Richard, 77), who's beginning to suffer from dementia. Albert wanders and gets confused, but keeps a wine tasting diary in which he writes some key observations about his and his friends' lives. Claude (Claude Rich, 83), the actor six years older than any of the others, tall, the charmer and the seducer of the lot, is a photographer, a philanderer, never married, who still goes with hookers. Rich, who is rarely without his seductive smile, may be the most memorable of the lot. Dirk (Daniel Brüel of Goodbye, Lenin and Inglourious Basterds, 34), a quiet blend of awkwardness and confidence, is a German ethnology graduate student who has problems with his French girlfriend, the unseen Deborah. He changes his specialization from the old people of a primitive tribe to the old people of France to please Deborah by not having to leave France for hie field work, but then she is displeased when he temporariy leaves her and moves in with the five oldsters, to study them closely as well as assist them.

    All Together has hard facts -- Jeanne is going to die, Albert is losing his mind, Claude has a heart attack and is put into a nursing home by his son -- but it is filled with pleasing but unrealistic compromises. To begin with, Albert's big wooly dog, Oscar, is taken to a kennel for adoption because it's so big it knocks Albert over and he is taken to the hospital for treatment. But Jean and Claude spring Oscar from the kennel and Dirk is hired to walk him. (Albert wasn't ever really fully aware that Oscar was gone.) The same happens with Claude. Jeanne, Albert, Annie and Jean visit him in the nursing home his son puts him in after he has a heart attack (while with a hooker) and they don't like it, so they break him out. While he was in bed there undergoing physical therapy to be able to walk again without crutches, he's up and about as soon as he's back in the house. Jane Fonda is unrealistic in herself: she looks nearly 20 years younger than her 74 years. Her frank conversations with Dirk on walks with Oscar frequently hinge on sex, and this theme, and the walks, seem pushed a bit by the filmmakers. They have a point to make, and they may also want to show off Jane. Money is not the worry it often is for older people. Albert causes major damage by flooding the house with bath water but extensive repairs are done with no mention of the cost. Claude's sexiness -- he persuades Dirk to get him Viagra and still seeks out hookers -- makes a valid point. Old men do still think about sex. But he's an idealized character. So even is Albert, whose senility seems frequently to vanish when the plot needs to move forward.

    There is trivial byplay over a Annie's installing a prefab swimming pool in the back garden. Jean objects strenuously, seemingly much more conservative about landscaping than he was about politics. But it's Annie's property, and her aim is to get the grandchildren to come visit. A joyous scene with young kids splashing in the new pool finally opens up the film to other generations. Otherwise, Claude's son is the only adult child, and an unwelcome one. The film concentrates unrealistically only on the interactions of the five old people. It also glosses over the fact that Chaplin is six years younger and Rich six years older than any of the others.

    Gianni Di Gregorio's Rome-set 2008 Mid-August Lunch is more casual in its action and more realistic in its old people. Michael Haneke's new Amour, the Cannes Golden Palm winner, is a far more profound, harrowing, and specific picture of a couple one of whom is dying. On the other hand while things are left out, All Together is good at representing older people striving to remain essentially themselves as they age, even to getting involved for a while in a serious conflict when two affairs from forty years earlier emerge through Albert's snooping. The idea of moving in together at once to deal with the isolation of old age and avoid an institution is noted as a trend, which indeed it is. Perhaps this appealing but somewhat superficial film is most notable simply for presenting that option for our consideration. In a world of aging populations, there need to be more movies about old people.

    Et si on vivait tous ensemble? ("Suppose We All Live Together?"), 96mins., was released January 18, 2012 in France, not to very enthusiastic reviews (Allociné press rating: 2.8), but French viewers have liked it better (Allocoiné: 3.5). It went into limited release in the US Oct. 18, 2012, doing better with critics (Metacritic: 56) than My Worst Nightmare (also released Oct. 18), which requires more of a French-culture mind-set to appreciate. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's New French Cinema series (Oct. 24-30, 2012).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-31-2012 at 04:58 PM.

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    MOBILE HOME (François Pirot 2012)

    FRANCOIS PIROT: MOBILE HOME (2012)


    ARTHUR DUPONT AND GUILLAUME GOUIX IN MOBILE HOME

    Stuck between youth and adulthood

    François Pirot's directing debut focuses on the uncertain moment between youth and long-delayed adulthood shared by two young Belgians. Twenty-something Simon (Arthur Dupont) has left his job and girlfriend in Liège and is back in his Belgian village living with his parents. In the opening sequence he and his best friend Julien (Guillaume Gouix) get pleasantly drunk in town and struggle home on bikes, laughing all the way, the widescreen images underlining their happy lostness. With confused dreams and nothing to do, Simon persuades Julien to abandon plans to rehab a big barn on his father's property and instead to travel the world with him. He acquires a big "mobile home" camper with with money his parents gave him to settle down with. These two young men are charming and handsome, a cross between Jake Gyllenhaal and Romain Duris. They are foundering though. Pirot did a lot of the writing for two of Joachim Lafosse's films, and he's a talent worth watching. But this is a somewhat negligible effort, though it was critically well received in France.

    Most of the focus tends to be on the energetic if totally confused Simon, though there's an important subplot about the relationship between Julien and his father Luc (Jean-Paul Bonnaire). Julien has stayed at home to see Luc through a serious illness, making them very close, and their parting therefore much more difficult than Simon's. Simon doesn't want to try to talk to his parents. He tries to hide from them that he's bought the big expensive camper with the money his dad's given him -- but they find out anyway in a funny chase scene. Their only real question for Simon is "Why?" which of course he can't answer. The pair talk about exotic places, but in the end the goal is only France. Trouble with the camper and the need to earn some money causes delays and uncertainty about departure. Simon, always trying to convince himself, enthuses about the joys of the road. They expect to get seasonal jobs like picking vegetables. His parents point out he would not do that at home.

    In their prime, attractive to women, both embark on little affairs, treading water as their departure is delayed. They work digging "root balls," pulling up Christmas trees, paid by the tree, work at which Simon is useless. He takes in a girl still in school, who turns out to be too insecure and too clingy. Julien briefly dates a single mom with a small child. The most touching and telling sequence happens when Simon meets a former friend who's getting a chance to be in pictures, and this leads him to pretend ha can go back to his teenage dream of being a rock star. A little practicing with the old band and a frantic all-night attempt at songwriting and that fizzles. This of course is a cliché but Simon doesn't know that. A pointless visit with his ex-gf Sylvie (Anne-Pascale Clairembourg) only reveals more about his irresponsibility: he has left a ton of stuff with her he was expected to retrieve. In the end her father dumps it all in front of his parents' house and this is an infuriating embarrassment.

    Simon and Julien aren't as self-indulgent as Apatow characters, or as funny; their uncertainty is agonizing and real. This is a simpler, slightly more youthful version of the almost-thirty crisis of the six young men in Gabriele Muccino's The Last Kiss, some of whom also make the decision to go off in a van with shapeless dreams of touring the world in it. Given the much simpler material here it falls to the two main actors to engage our interest, and Gouix and Dupont indeed are engaging and attractive; still it's somewhat surprising that Pirot, who contributed to two of Lafosse's very focused films, would chose such an evanescent theme for his own directorial debut. Mobile Home came out in Belgium and France in August 2012 and the French reviews were favorable (Allociné press rating: 3.5). Though a less positive review noted the scenario was "anemic," the French critics spoke of the film as "beautiful and tender," "finely written," possessed of a "subtlety" about a "delicate moment of life." This may be harder to grasp for English-language viewers, especially since the subtitles on the print screened are of the roughly-made kind, like Eighties Hong Kong ones, that often appear only for milliseconds.

    Mobile Home debuted at Locarno and was released in Belgium and France in August 2012. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series of October 2012.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-29-2012 at 04:49 PM.

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    A WORLD WITHOUT WOMEN (Guillaume Brac 2012)

    GUILLAUME BRAC: A WORLD WITHOUT WOMEN (2012)


    CONSTANCE ROUSSEAU, VINCENT MACAIGNE, AND LAURE CALAMY IN A WORLD WITHOUT WOMEN

    Lonely guy

    The French director Guillaume Brac has yet to make a film over an hour long, but his World Without Women (54mins.) was shown in French cinemas in February 2012 proceeded by a 24-minute film called Stranded/Le Naufragé, stretching the total presentation to 83 minutes; they were shown together in San Francisco too. Both feature the same actor, Vincent Macaigne, as the same character, Sylvain, and he's the lynchpin each time of little tales about the love-lorn, being himself a Lonely Guy. Stranded was shot in 2009, "within the same community as A World Without Women, to which it is a prologue." This location is a town in Picardy, Northern France, along the coast. With both films Brac has a touch that's both delicate and assured.

    Stranded focuses on Luc (Julien Lucas, who played Antoine, the rich boy in Garrel's Regular Lovers), a sturdy and serious cyclist who has ridden all the way from Paris intending to take the train back that evening, but he can't make it to the station on time because he's gotten three flats. Sylvain gives him a ride and he winds up spending the night at his rather shabby house, despite having taken a room at a small hotel. Early on tere's a priceless scene at a bar with locals joking around, but this is just a prelude to more intimate conversations. Luc and Syulvain strike up an instant rapport and unexpectedly share some very private feelings: Sylvain's loneliness, Luc's disappointment with his relationship. They just seem to blurt things out. At the end of the film Luc's girlfriend has come for him and he stands next to her in the morning looking out to sea, quietly weeping. Sylvain may just be a facilitator, but he's an important and unusually interesting one.

    As Louna comments on Un Blog du Cinéma, A World Without Woman blends a dash of Jacques Tati and a soupçon of Éric Rohmer, and, one might add, touches of less distinctive French beach movies, and yet the effect is fresh and in the moment. In this longer film the town's "vacation" possiblity is awakened. While Stranded takes place in the winter, this is the summer's last gasp, the lend of August, and a pretty young mother and her equally pretty daughter come, belatedly, to rent rooms in a house overlooking the sea from Sylvain. But he doesn't just bring the keys. The bitter-sweet feel of a rustic summer beach (in this case full of pebbles) is palpable. "Well anyway it's better than Corsica," says Patricia (Laure Calamy) to her daughter Juliette (Constance Rousseau of Mia Hansen-Løve's All is Forgiven), as she looks out the window. On the beach, Patricia's surrounded by four aggressive young cruisers, and this establishes that she's attractive, that she likes to flirt, and that Patricia is an unwilling observer. Sylvain appears, and becomes a shy protector.

    Sylvain is big and fleshy, balding in back, hair too long, touchingly insecure, worried about all his flaws, with a sweet smile, infintely polite, skirting the edge magnificently as Macaigne plays him between charmer and schlub, like a recessive version of Gérard Depardieu. Patricia and Juliette play charades with him, Patricia drinking too much wine. Patricia has scenes with Sylvain and the gendarme, Gilles (Laurent Papot), who lacks Sylvain's sensitivity but is macho, slim, muscular, in short a presentable average guy -- everything Sylvain is not. Brac's strategy is to set up simple contrasts and a superficially familiar setting and moment to play out a series of otherwise qutie specific, original scenes, whose freshness is always assured (in case you might not otherwise notice) by the peculiar presence of Vincent Macaigne's Sylvain. He's one of a kind, and it's understandable that Brac would build two films around him this character and this actor.

    A World Without Women (filmed in 2011) did very well with French critics when it was released in France in February 2012 (Allociné press rating: 3.8), notably with raves from two of the most sophisticated and serious French film publicaitons, Cahierrs du Cinéma and Les Inrockuptibles. There is of course the criticism that Brac, a La Fémis graduate in production who up to now has been in secondary directorial spots, has not come up with anything really new here, merely approached familiar ground in a fresh way. But the freshness is there, and his use of local non-pros adds nicely to the flavor. (Macaigne, who has 16 acting credits, recently directed his own less widely seen but even better reviewed very improvisational 40-minute film, Ce qu'il restera de nous/"What Will Remain of Us," also with Laure Calamy, with an Allociné critical rating: 4.7.)

    Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series, October 2012.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-03-2014 at 03:15 AM.

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    ALYAH (Elie Wajeman 2012)

    ELIE WAJEMAN: ALYAH (2012)


    CEDRIC KAHN AND PIO MARMAI IN ALYAH

    Drug dealer to the Promised Land

    Alyah, Elie Wajeman's directorial debut, quietly announces its sense of style with dp David Chizallet's cool opening images of desolate street scenes in the northern part of Paris. Then the movie grabs you and holds you with close up focus on the macho, hunky but buttoned up protagonist, Alex Raphaelson (Pio Marmaï of Delicacy and Living on Love Alone), a petty drug dealer in Paris driven nuts by his flaky brother Isaac (the director Cédric Kahn), who's always borrowing money he won't return. When Alex learns his energetic cousin Nathan (David Geselson) is starting a club-restaurant in Israel he thinks can't fail, he makes working with Nathan his goal and begins applying for "aliah," the return to the holy lands sponsored by Isreal for qualified Jews. He studies Hebrew with his ex-girlfriend Esther (Sarah Lepicard) and finds proof of his "Jewishness." His motive in alyah isn't religious, or even ethnic. It's the desire for a fresh start. Alyah's originality arises from its ironies: the near-do-well with ambition, the Jew involved in petty crime, the religious journey that isn't one, the family man who wants to escape from it all. Alyah is a movie that leaves you feeling a little flat at the end, but the way there is stylish and has a sense of intimacy enlivened by mystery.

    There's a Hollywood film feel in a good with with the opening sequence of contrasting scenes. First a drug deal and a bad encounter with the maddening but soulful Isaac. Then the story opens up when Alex goes to the apartment of his aunt (Brigitte Jaques Wajeman), where a Shabbat dinner is being conducted, showing a family of French practicing Jews -- and able handling by Wajeman of an atmospheric scene full of new characters. To one side is Alex's withdrawn widower father (Jean-Marie Winling), whose manner reveals much. Obviously the brothers haven't had love or a positive role model, and Alex has had to take over responsibility for the weak Isaac. This sits oddly with the illegal way he supports himself. But then it doesn't: his father lacks the moral credibility to object.

    The movie unfolds in counterpoint. The many details of Alex's pursuit of alya constantly alternate with the main, though not unusual, paradox. To get out of drug dealing he raises money by more drug dealing, in fact with a sense or urgency and at a higher level than usual, necessitating an upgrade from hash to coke. Meanwhile there's a third theme because at the Shabbat dinner Alex has met a goyish visitor, Jeanne (Adele Haenel), a beautiful student, and they fall for each other, despite a slight remaining pull from his ex-girlfriend Esther (Sarah Lepicard), a Hebrew teacher whom he now takes language lessons from to prepare for life in Isreal. He follows the lessons half-heartedly, but he also doesn't buy a return ticket to France.

    All this is carried along by Marmaï's strong, rough presence, which is compelling but studiously not ingratiating. He does not play to anyone, and that includes the viewer, and this adds to his interest -- up to a point. It might help to show more cracks in the armor, but we have to settle for Alex's impatience with Isaac and his frustrated rage when there's a major hitch in his effort to accumulate funds. Like any scheme of this kind, there is the doubt: wherever you go, there you are, and Alex won't escape his private demons by immigrating to Israel. But the few final scenes set there have a realism that makes the project at least seem concrete. Working on construction of the restaurant, he can't understand a word of his supervisor's Hebrew, but he knows enough to say "I don't understand." The final scenes show light and air. Most of what has led up to this has been moody and dark. The acting is fine throughout and the directing is sure.

    Maybe the most memorable scene is Alex's farewell to Jeanne in a Paris café when she draws a diagram of their relationship on a paper placemat, to which he adds his own touches. It's a vivid little display of the analytical intelligence about matters of the heart that French girls have.

    Alyah , 90 mins., debuted at Cannes in May 2012 during Directors' Fortnight. It opened in Paris September 19 and was well received by critics (Allociné press rating: 3.7). Screened for this review as a part of the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series in October 2012.

    US theatrical release June 13, 2013.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-03-2014 at 03:18 AM.

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