A few more reviews from the ongoing francophone film festival Cinemania in Montreal. If you missed our first couple of reviews, click here.
The directorial debut by writing and directing team Hugues and Sandra Martin is a nifty, little atmospheric thriller that while not wholly original, is a solid first outing from a team that will be one to watch.
Set in the midst of the war between France and Algeria, the film drops us in with an elite French paratroop unit who have been dispatched into the desert to find a military plane that has crash landed. The group is your standard ragtag bunch with a variety of character types including the grizzled veteran, the cowardly nerd, and the hotshot sniper. The soldiers finally find the plane, but the crew is dead and all that's left behind is a mysterious, locked, Top Secret metal case. Before they have time to think about what to do next, they come under fire from Algerian rebels. While they retreat and eventually take refuge and hide in the midst of a sandstorm, the soldiers are determined to find out where the rebels have been hiding as intelligence reports suggested the area was safe. Marching on, they eventually stumble across a mysterious, fortified village in the middle of the desert and from there things get eerie.
Though the framework of the story is familiar and the characters stock, the Martin team imbue the proceedings with just enough mystery to keep things interesting. To really say much more about what the soldiers encounter and what happens as a result would spoil the film, but the script touches up on the madness of war in a way that feels organic. And while that metal case for much of the film is Macguffin, it slowly becomes a focal point around which the action takes place and the final reveal as to what is contained within is surprising and satisfying, adding another intriguing layer to a film that refuses to fold easily to genre conventions. [B]
"A Screaming Man" ("Un homme qui crie")
A film we missed at Cannes, though we heard good things about it on the Croisette (and it ended up taking home the Jury Prize), we finally got a chance to catch up with the latest from Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and unlike the title implies, it's a quiet, heartbreaking tale about self-preservation and the difficulty in holding on to your sanity as the world around you spins out of control.
Adam (Youssouf Djaoro), better known as Champion, is a former Olympian and current pool attendant and a luxury hotel in Chad. He's held the job for over a decade, and it's one that defines his life and makes him proud. Unfortunately, in a round of cutbacks, the hotel downsizes his position leaving his son, also a pool attendant, as the lone person with the job. Adam is resentful and hurt at losing his job, and is out of sorts with his new position manning the front gate of the hotel. But that is not the only problem he faces. Daily news reports indicate that rebels are drawing closer to the city, yet Adam remains fixated on his work, even as staff and customers begin to stay away fearing the outbreak of a civil war. So concerned with maintaining the position he has held for so long, Adam soon makes a drastic choice that will change his life and that of his family forever.
Haroun's film is a quietly observed one and Djaoro's performance is a wonder. Completely internalized the title is a bit of wink because as guilt that weighs on Adam begins to build, the more fierce and deafening his silence becomes. "A Screaming Man" is a finely honed film, one that commands your attention right to its tragic end. But don't be mistaken, it is not a political film but instead a meditation on the staggering cost on the individual as a nation slowly frays at the edges. [B]
"All That Glitters" ("Tout ce qui brille")
This is the kind of film that makes Cinemania so intriguing; a mainstream French film that turns out to be a pleasant, unexpected delight.
Written and directed by Hervé Mimran and Géraldine Nakache, "All That Glitters" is the rare female-led comedy that works. To be fair though, the premise doesn't reinvent the wheel. The film follows Lila (Leïla Bekhti) and Ely (Géraldine Nakache), just out of teenagehood young women and best friends who still live at home, but have aspirations for the good life (hence the title). Obsessed with appearing outwardly mobile, they scrimp and save for expensive shoes, hit the hottest clubs where they score free drinks and at the end of the night, they asked to get dropped off in more fashionable neighborhoods lest their more modest roots dare come to the fore. Naturally, the game becomes as exhausting and begins to take a toll on each girl emotionally, and eventually, causes a fracture in their relationship.
Again, none of this is really new, but thanks to spirited performances by Bekhti and Nakache and really well-utilized songs largely by The Streets, you can't help but root for these girls in a film both tender and funny. Extra points to some solid supporting turns as well particularly by French Anne Heche lookalike Audrey Lamy as the temperamental Carole and Daniel Cohen as Ely's sensitive father.
While so many American female-led comedies seem to position finding a man as the resolution to all of life's woes, how refreshing it is to watch a film where the message is that pursuit of all the good things in life can't be done until you find yourself first. [B]