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last update 3.Feb.07
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Bed and Breakfast   3.5/5   Bienvenue au Gîte
Sharply written and performed with loads of attitude, this enjoyable French comedy gently pokes fun at the clash of cultures in a small country village that's full of outsiders. It also manages to get under our skin with an array of hilariously engaging characters.

Caroline and Bertrand (Foďs and Harel) leave the rat race in Paris to buy a B&B in the countryside. Bertrand immediately dives into the local pace, but Caroline just can't let go of her stressed-out ways. Fortunately, the villagers are all fairly relaxed, from their good-natured employee (Grégorio) to the owners (Barrio and Maloney) of the gay resort next door. The laid-back olive-oil producing mayor (Ogier) is looking for an inventive way to celebrate the village's millennium. Soon Caroline is organising a massive medieval fair, annoying everyone and realising she'd rather be in Paris.

The dialog is so sharply written that the film keeps us laughing, especially at Caroline's relentless tetchiness. Foďs catches her perfectly--a woman who simply can't figure out where she belongs, and needs to push herself to the brink in order to discover the answer. Her uptight interaction with all of the other characters is thoroughly amusing. And each actor makes the most of his or her character; these are quirky but extremely recognisable people, full of telling traits and witty reactions.

It's not a particularly deep film, there are no moral messages (beside perhaps facing up to the truth of where you belong), and it's all played in a fairly low-key way that still manages to keep us completely interested. Even the big finale at the village fair is fairly understated. But everyone's likeable, and there are some terrific side characters along the way. It's also a rare film that actually captures the complexities of rural life without resorting to stereotypes. A nice little gem.

dir Claude Duty
scr Jean-Philippe Barrau, Claude Duty
with Marina Foďs, Philippe Harel, Annie Grégorio, Sebastián Barrio, Michael Maloney, Bulle Ogier, Julie Depardieu, Nathalie Levy-Lang, Lionel Abelanski, Léa Drucker, Sandra Nkake, Olivier Saladin
harel and fois release Fr 3 Sep.03,
UK Oct.06 dvd
03/France 1h45
12 themes, innuendo, some language
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Like a Brother 4/5   Comme un Frčre
Essentially a short film telling a simple story, this French drama gets intriguingly beneath the skin as it examines a young man's struggle to accept who he is and get on with his life.

Sebastien (Deličre), age 20, arrives in Paris and comes out to his dad (Derville). He then changes his name to Zack and hits the gay bars, where he meets Bruno (Amaro). But his mind keeps returning to his coastal hometown, fondly remembering nights out with best buddy Romain (Boucaux), Romain's girlfriend Sophie (Maugy) and her friend Marine (Ishiomin), who has strong feelings for Sebastien. The problem is that the intense brotherly closeness was never quite enough for him. Then he hears that Romain is coming to Paris.

Filmmakers Alapetite and Legann get straight in without any belaboured set-up. It's so matter-of-fact, with subtle and telling detail, that it must be autobiographical. They have the confidence to tell the story without over-explaining, and the result is bracingly authentic, involving and often moving. The film has a remarkably relaxed tone, and the young cast catches this spirit perfectly.

Deličre carries the story on his shoulders; the camera rarely leaves his side. And he nicely underplays the drama, comedy and continual lust Sebastien feels. His scenes with Boucaux bristle with physical energy and a camaraderie that feels almost too real. While the intimate encounters are sexy and never movie-fake.

This is quietly solid filmmaking that's introspective and never pushy, despite the strong themes. It also has a slightly dated feel, as the characters write actual letters to each other, and Sebastien uses a chat-line rather than the internet to meet guys in Paris (there's not a computer in sight, and he barely touches his mobile phone).

There's also some enjoyably silly filler, such as a dress-up montage and a midnight swim, as well as several silent scenes that let the characters get close without speaking to each other--something rare in a French film. And in the end it reaches a thoughtful, realistic conclusion that's both sweet and provocative. A nice little gem from actors and filmmakers worth keeping an eye on.

dir-scr Bernard Alapetite, Cyril Legann
with Benoît Deličre, Thibault Boucaux, Johnny Amaro, Adeline Ishiomin, Amandine Maugy, Michel Derville, Gaëtan Borg, Patrick Esilva, Jean-Christophe Bouvet
boucaux and deliere
release Fr Apr.05,
UK 18.Sep.06 dvd
05/France Eklipse 56m
15 themes, language, sexuality
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My Angel   3/5   Mon Ange
There's a terrific tone to this odyssey about two very different, very needy people thrown together. It's a little uneven, but sharp acting and some evocative themes help make it worth watching.

Colette (Paradis) is a French prostitute in the Netherlands, trying to get the man of her dreams (Noriega) to fall in love with her. She's not actually trying to make money tonight; she wants to get pregnant. Then she answers a phone, and a stranger (Perron) asks her to collect her son at an orphanage and meet her at the train station. She sounds so desperate that Colette agrees. But the boy, Billy (Rottiers), is actually a teenager. And it turns out that a bad guy (Ruf) is after his mother.

The plot is a series of set-pieces in which Colette tries to pass on Billy to someone more responsible, but she always ends up back in charge. She can't release herself from caring for him. He is becoming more and more dependent on her, and vice versa. Filmmaker Frydman sets up an intriguing dynamic between these characters that wavers intriguingly between a mother-son relationship, a school-boy crush, and surprisingly strong compassion.

The structure makes the film feel a bit repetitive and dull, as well as overly mannered in the tricky dialog and visual wittiness. But there's something creepy and compelling about it as well, which keeps us hooked. And both Paradis and Rottiers are so engaging in the central roles, bouncing perfectly off each other, that we want to know how this strange situation turns out for them. Even though it's not too difficult to guess what will happen.

Frydman launches the film with lively humour and energy that kind of dissipates as things get more serious. It's still quirky and energetic, but the film gets increasingly serious, to the point where it feels arty and pretentious. There are all kinds of wrinkles gurgling within the story that aren't thoroughly ironed out, and the emotional undercurrent kind of fizzles out without ever making a point. But it's still an intriguing and often engaging story of two lost souls thrown together through a series of events in which they discover that they're all each other has.

dir-scr Serge Frydman
with Vanessa Paradis, Vincent Rottiers, Eduardo Noriega, Eric Ruf, Claude Perron, Thomas Fersen, Anne-Marie Loop, Jean-Benoît Ugeux
paradis and rottiers release UK 15.Sep.06
05/France-Netherlands 1h34
15 themes, language, violence
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Swindled   3.5/5   Incautos
Stylish and fast paced, this Spanish comedy-thriller is thoroughly enjoyable as it twists and turns its way to the end. But since we know the genre, that's kind of what we expect.

Ernesto and Gitano (Alterio and Casaseca) are petty conmen on the streets of Madrid. When Gitano goes to prison, Ernesto teams up with aging swindler Manco (Alexandre) and his mentor Federico (Luppi). Together they launch a series of elaborate stings. But Federico has a weak spot: his ex, Pilar (Abril). And when she joins in on a con much larger than anyone's ever tried, there are simply too many things that can go wrong. Everyone involved, including the marks (Melki and Castejón), seems capable of double or triple-crossing everyone else.

The film's loaded with those old chestnuts: "a well-crafted lie can solve many problems", "do anything, but don't fall in love", "there's always someone smarter than you". And with everyone out to get whatever they can, the film has a nice hint of The Grifters about it, with lively and likeable characters, snappy dialog and a story structure that's in itself an elaborate scam. It's so enjoyable complicated that it keeps us completely gripped.

And director-cowriter Bardem (cousin of Javier) has the nerve to add a current of emotion and black humour under the cheeky action. These are people who steal others' money and feel no guilt, and the fact that they're skating on the edge of tragedy is always understood. It helps that they're so vivid, with personalities that resonate in the plot, even when they're pretending to be someone else. Each of them has moments of unexpected panic, suspicion and seduction. And it's played perfectly.

That said, there's nothing much to it, really. No compelling moral dilemma or identifiable human emotion. It's just an entertaining romp that manages to stay at least a step ahead of the viewer, only occasionally cheating us with one of those "oh, it's you!" lines when we can't see who "you" is. In other words, the hilariously convoluted finale is completely impossible to predict, which means twist-o-rama fans will love it.

dir Miguel Bardem
scr Miguel Bardem, Carlos Martín
with Ernesto Alterio, Victoria Abril, Federico Luppi, Manuel Alexandre, Alejandro Casaseca, Gilbert Melki, Manuel Morón, Jesús Castejón, Eduardo Marchioli, Marian Álvarez, Christopher de Andrés, Susi Sánchez
casaseca and alterio release Sp 9.Jul.04,
UK 4.Dec.06 dvd
04/Spain 1h42
15 themes, language, violence
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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall