The various elements of the crime comedy from star writer-director Louis Garrel don’t seem original at first glance. The sweet plot involves a troubled thirty-something, Abel (Jarrell), who is lured by family ties to aid in a robbery to protect the ones he loves. In addition to this conscience-stricken hero, the cast of characters includes Abel’s free-spirited mother (Enos Greenberg), who is reformed — or is she? – Ex-con (Roschdy Zem), obsessive dream heroine (Noémie Merlant), and various kinds of sleazy underworld mostly confined to lurking in the shadows. But this film is much smoother than the main synopsis would suggest, with color transitions that shouldn’t work, but somehow do. Fans of Marin Addy’s 2016 Toni Erdmann comedy-drama or Alex van Warmerdam’s 2013 psychological thriller Borgmann may recognize Common Sense.
Here’s a movie in which the sight of the earnest and charming actor Zem wearing a rather large tie is a great and enduring image. It’s just a tie, about twice his size, but it’s impossible to resist the hopeful expression on his face that he might be perfect. You’ll find yourself pondering life’s big questions, like: Who decides exactly the perfect tie size anyway? Above all, it’s a movie that makes you question the rules.
This interest in acting by convention versus instinct was established early on, with a scene framed as if it was really happening IRL, but it turns out to be part of an acting lesson. Bringing the idea of acting to our attention can be a risky move for filmmakers: all that ensures that everyone watching (not just film critics) begins to pay a little more attention than they normally would to the idea of performance. It was definitely better to engage a rigid splint if you had to flex that particular muscle.
Fortunately, Garrel has a few tricks up his sleeve. Among them is Merlant’s (recently featured in “Tár”) discovery “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”, which adds layers of biochemistry to the role of a bright-eyed, impulsive woman whose acting skills will be crucial to the story’s concept. Narration (a plot to steal a fortune from high-end Iranian caviar (which might also be called MacGuffin Caviar), and Greenberg, a veteran with over six decades of screen experience as Jarrell’s screen mother.
In Zem, Garrel cleverly plays not only an actor but also a celebrated director in his own right (Zem’s 2006 film, Omar Killed Me, was selected for Morocco’s Oscar entry), and you’d have to consider it for a film that speaks more about If such a diverse cast would pull it off. An artist with experience directing other actors would be an added advantage. Plus, he delivers a carefully judged performance that isn’t about wowing audiences with charisma, but rather shows how the character uses her charisma in the movie world to attract and persuade others.
The diverse and beautiful movie sets provide a playground for productions and lighting design to have a little fun. A newly opened flower shop adds a touch of “Marie Antoinette” (Sofia Coppola’s 2006 remake) to a film that resists candy-colored fantasy, while the scenes set in an aquarium where Garrel’s character delivers beautifully lit, educational conversations are unparalleled. To see in the cinema this year – lots of accessories from Julien Gallois Postman.
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