Sunday, October 30, 2005


Games of Love and Chance

NW Film Forum, mid October

Abdellatif Kechiche, 2005


If this film is any evidence, French Oscar (Cesar) bait is better than American Oscar bait. This was apparently the big winner in France last year, and while I doubt it was the best choice, it's an excellent piece of work and a confident and intruiging debut feature. Kechiche takes us deep into the social world and inner lives of teenagers in a poor Paris suburb, primarily of North African descent. Their friendships, rivalries, crushes, and posturing have a quite universal feel about them; we've seen it all before, but it seems fresh in this film, in no small part because of Kechiche's pacing; he gives his scenes time to breathe and develop--conflicts simmer for a while before they explode, lending them an authentic feel. As boastful and foul-mouthed as these kids are, there's an undertone of sweetness to them.

The plot and the comedy are both driven by the same narrative device--a staging of an 18th century (Mariveax) comic play on class manners. The theme of the play--about rich people pretending to be poor and vice-versa--could have easily degenerated into overwrought analogies, but it didn't. The best scene is when our male protagonist, who has no interest in acting (or, indeed, emoting at all) has schemed his way into the play to be close to the female lead, who is the object of his affections as well. The baffled, patient, immensely frustrated drama teacher trying to get him to read the lines with something other than his trademark flat monotone. (Later, when she rehearses with him alone, he finally is able to put a hint of emotion into his line readings, and for this character, that's a sign of true devotion).

It's not a great film, and it's not terribly consequential, and it doesn't have any great insights into the class and race divisions in modern France. But the filmmakers know that, and it's a patient, smart, and deeply entertaining and satisfying film.

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