- Le petit Nicolas (Little Nicolas, Laurent Tirard, 2009)
- À l’origine (In The Beginning, Xavier Giannoli, France, 2009)
I saw this children's film with my French teacher, who was interested to see the adaptation from the children's story book that his mother read to him as a child. He says it's true to the spirit of the source material but, like me, didn't find it anything special. The story-book mood is invoked by the opening credits and the children's performances are all what I suppose might be called charming. My nine-year old son would probably like it because it depicts the exploits of boys his age. There were lots of laughs in the audience, but this really is a film for pre-teenagers and their parents only.
In the Beginning
"It's all fake", despairs 'Philippe' (François Cluzet), realising that his sham/scam to build a road through a rural town is placing him out of his depth - he's usually a petty thief. The trouble is, around the same time, that's how I felt about the film as a whole. It's totally implausible and, though it claims to be based on a true story (which it may well be), this story has so many gaping plot holes in it, you could drive an road construction excavator through it.
For example, the basic premise that a small-time crim would not take the ample opportunities he had to take the money and run (which he'd done hundreds of times before). Or Philippe is knee-deep in mud and the rain is bucketing down. He hysterically calls out to the workers to keep on working, the rain has stopped. Or the shooting of a man, in which a company vehicle is left at the scene, but the police do nothing to track our man - incredulous. Or a wide shot of a construction site where the rain is pouring down - but only in the middle (from the overhead sprinklers) and not on either side. A man is covered in petrol after an accident and is trapped. The petrol catches fire, but our man is still save-able. There's an explosion - surely the guy is dead? No, there's one more chance, he's dragged to safety and another big explosion - utter garbage. If you want to get picky, there's a multitude of details about road construction, but let's not go there - most would be unaware of the ridiculousness of this aspect. For me, it looked like they were just driving some equipment around a field looking busy, but really doing nothing.
Emmanuelle Devos is always good value and adds real credibility to her role as the town's mayor, Stéphane. Unfortunately she is wasted and there is no on-screen chemistry between her and Philippe. Gérard Depardieu still has some gravity in his small role as a crim, though his obesity is a regular distraction in recent films. I really wish, for his own sake, that he'd lose some weight - otherwise his career will not last must longer. It's painful to watch.
I note that François Cluzet was the main character in Ne le dis à personne/Tell No One, one of my three worst films of 2007. In the Beginning will easily make my worst 10 of this year. I wrote of Tell No One at the time: "125 painful minutes. That's what I endured, though it seemed much longer." There's more in that post, and so much of it could be said of this film, like: "after about 20 minutes I was looking at my watch, and at 45 minutes I was thinking it must be coming to an end (only to be disappointed to see how little time had passed)." I also tired of this film by the 45 minute mark and was restless for the remaining hour and a half - yes, it's bloody long. My verdict: avoid at all costs (though every overseas review I've looked at raves about it - go figure).