By Drew Taylor | The Playlist October 30, 2013 at 6:16PM
Remember a few years ago when M.I.A. was trying to drum up attention for her ultimately underwhelming third album? There was the New York Times profile, the outrageous fashion decisions, and, most notably, the "controversial" video for "Born Free," directed by Romain Gavras (son of director Costa-Gavras). In the clip, redheaded kids were being rounded up and forced to march through landmine-strewn patches of earth, which at the time was seen as some kind of reaction to the stringent anti-immigration laws in Arizona or American xenophobia or… something. But it turns out that the music video is actually part of a larger work Romain Gavras is constructing, which includes his striking, often brilliant debut feature "Our Day Will Come."
Set in the same alternate reality where redheads are publicly derided and scorned, the film follows a teenager (Oliver Barthelemy, who looks thirty and is saddled with what is either one of the worst wigs ever or a severely bizarre head of actual hair), who is bullied at school and harassed at home. One night, after a particularly violent encounter at home, he storms out and runs into Vincent Cassel, a kind of lecherous guidance counselor. Together, they bond, and not just over the ruddiness of their hair color, but as outcasts from society, striking out, on the open road.
And, at its heart, for all its artiness and social commentary, the movie really is a road movie. The two drive around, encountering other, similarly outcast characters, in ways that are both meandering and somewhat stylized, but often strike at an inherent truth, both to the aimlessness of youth and the kind of "collect-as-you-go" nature of road trips, where friends are just another prolonged stopover away.
At some point, the younger boy sees a brochure that proclaims Ireland a cloistered safe-haven for redheads, and the two make a plan to meet a ferry that will take them to this ideal destination. Cassel, for his part, is weary and thinks that it could be a bad idea, but their detours get progressively weirder and more violent, and his general attitude seems to shift from "no way" to "fuck it." It's a tough role, but Cassel brings his character to the screen with a fair amount of dimension and emotionality, reminding us all the while why he's one of our favorite actors on the globe (seriously, we could watch homeboy read a paper for two hours and it'd probably keep us on the edge of our seat).
There are a lot of ways in which "Our Day Will Come" could falter and sputter, but Gavras has an uncanny knack for pacing, knowing how to dole out the misadventures of our two heroes, building appropriately into mini-climaxes of violence or desperation. Nothing's too over-the-top (a serious concern after seeing that body-parts-ridden M.I.A. video), and the film reveals a surprisingly well-rounded emotional streak towards the movie's climax, which seems to go along with the physical transformation of the two lead actors (we won't spoil it here).
Gavras paints these scenarios, too, against stark vistas punctuated by mountainous industrial outcrops, which bring to mind nothing short of Michelangelo Antonioni's "Red Desert." As they streak by in their cherry-red sports car, you can feel, at once, the jubilant promise of salvation, even if the characters get stuck in the mire and muck of their antisocial, often violent proclivities. Everything is scored, too, either by classical compositions or French electro-pop artist Sebastian's magnificent, brooding, beats-and-strings work.
"Our Day Will Come" is the kind of polarizing, in-your-face movie that we too rarely see in cinema these days. People will either love it (like we did) or hate it, violently. There's no middle ground here. And regardless of whether or not you like it, it's hard not to consider the film to be a vital, bold work of an emerging artist that is truly unlike anything else we saw at the festival (or, for that matter, anywhere else). [A-]
This is a reprint of our review from the 2011 SXSW Film Festival.