By Christopher Bell | The Playlist May 2, 2011 at 2:19AM
"My Piece of the Pie"
When "The Company Men" arrived, people found it difficult to have sympathy for the three main characters -- each was an upper-class employee being fucked over by an even richer fat cat. Maybe it would've done some good to have one of the prominent characters be working class (Kevin Costner fills that void, though he's a side character that serves only to tease Ben Affleck and, in the end, teach him a lesson), as a character losing his BMW and country club privileges is only going to induce eye-rolls. French film "My Piece of the Pie" at first splits its time between power broker Steve (Gilles Lellouche, "Tell No One") and the recently laid-off factory worker France (Karin Viard, "Potiche"), portraying the former as a cocky playboy and the latter as a worn-out mother on the verge of suicide.
France refuses to demonstrate with her former co-workers; instead she takes a gig as a housekeeper for Steve, both of them unaware that he caused the downfall of the factory with his scummy stock trading. Writer/Director Cedric Klapisch's script goes exactly where you think it will (hint: towards the end, she finds out what he did), including getting the two leads together for a lusty evening romp, but nothing ever feels too cheap. Chalk it up to its occasional playfulness, which keeps it from being too much of a pessimistic, damn-the-man slog -- in one scene, after France has already mentally agreed to accept 45 euros a day to watch her employer's son, Steve remarks that he did his own research and will "only" pay her 100 per day. Cut to the happy employee, hastily cleaning out a grocery store to a pop song. But it's not all cute: this also subtly suggests a certain hypocrisy, with the victim now taking advantage of naivety for profit just like he did to her. "My Piece of the Pie" doesn't regularly get that insightful or stimulating; unfortunately, at the end of the day it's just a simple tale of morality vs. selfishness, complete with a good guy and bad guy. Still, it's not a bad ride. [B-]
Call it good timing that a film focusing on the lack of societal and economic opportunities in Egypt was completed in time to screen at a renowned film festival only a short while after said country was rattled with revolution. Call it unfortunate that the end product's no good. Hesham Issawi finds his story in Tarek and Amal, a couple brought together despite their differing religions (he’s Muslim, she’s Christian) that want to break away from their country as soon as possible. Tarek’s set to run off to Italy, but there's more keeping Amal at home -- she's the one that keeps the household together, and this burden prevents her from acting too impulsively. However, after a string of unsuccessful jobs and disturbing, desperate decisions made by those close to her (one friend implants a fake hymen so she can be married off without a problem), Amal finds herself being pushed closer to the path of escape.
Shot on the fly without permits (with some scenes wrapped in under twenty minutes), Issawi takes the easy way out in terms of style, shooting with a shaky hand-held camera and framing characters against bland empty walls, much to the film's detriment -- we’re big supporters of shooting low/no-budget, but there’s a way to do it that doesn’t reflect negatively on the project itself. While the director does capture poor working conditions and shoddy living, too often is he held back by idiotic dialogue (“You’re stupid. I’m leaving. You pay.”), immaturity (Tarek partakes in a nice blunt with reggae playing in the background; the subsequent shot is a close up of a Bob Marley poster), or downright silly dramatic choices (Amal has a nightmare that she is cornered by a flaming tire). We’re also not really given enough time with the two leads to actually buy them as a couple: either they’re focused on separately, or their screen time together involves the two arguing or lamenting their situations. It doesn’t feel like lovers being there for one another, it feels like story recaps through dialogue. Top it all off with a half-hearted and poorly handled finale (which elicited giggles at our screening) and you’re left with a film that doesn’t really work on any level -- the best we can say is that it gets in and gets out thanks to a short running time and decent pacing. Oh, and that it’s not “Cairo Time.” [D+]
The very first movie made by a Rwandan in his homeland is a lot more experimental than you’d think for a country’s debut film. Possibly feeling lonely being the sole director in the region, Kivu Ruhorahoza centers his tale around a protagonist of the same profession. Filmmaker Balthazar is busy putting together a very personal project, one involving a woman whose family was killed in the genocide, possibly by the man in the asylum cell next to her. It's not exactly a bright subject by any means, and the closer he gets to principal shooting the more things erode: his equipment manager blows every bulb they’ve got, the government refuses to give the project money (preferring something on HIV or gender violence), and his writer refuses to see eye-to-eye on certain subjects. Intercut are scenes from his script, delivered by professional actors from the area in short spurts, suggesting either some sort of hallucination or brief daydream. These come sporadically until completely taking over and Balthazar's film “The Cycle of the Cockroach” becomes the only thing we see. From here, title cards break up the two sections: “Act 1” centers on the insane and imprisoned murderer as he berates a cockroach, “Act 2” consists of a woman and her brother haunted by the atrocities of the war.
Ruhorahoza’s film is difficult to describe (it's likely just as annoying to try to digest the synopsis), but it’s even more onerous to sit through and work out all of his mysterious metaphors and ideas. The approach he uses to convey his themes rings more than a few bells of familiarity, such as the film “Our Beloved Month of August” or much of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work, but it’s not quite as hypnotic or mesmerizing as those influences. Whereas they filled their frames with lush environments and moved the camera like they were Tarkovsky's offspring, this director prefers a more traditional approach to scene coverage, which does a great disservice to the dense topics present -- in a weird way, it feels like they're not getting their due because of the over-simplified aesthetic. Even so, there’s a deep, pent-up rage bubbling throughout the film, one that never quite explodes but is still thoroughly felt. Finally, we have a contemplative film on the disgusting tragedy that took place in the East African country, one that recognizes it as a severely traumatic, complicated, and long-lasting event and not something ripe for Oscar bait. [B]