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May Allah Bless France_key

In 2003’s Swim­ming Pool, François Ozon seduct­ively blurred real­ism with psy­cho­lo­gic­al arche­types, the film’s com­pos­i­tion, col­ours and land­scape put­ting an exquis­ite pres­sure on Char­lotte Rampling’s blocked Eng­lish author to let loose, con­nect with her anima and get her mojo back. His new film, The New Girlfriend/Une Nou­velle Amie, has even more fun with divided selves and repressed desire, this time focus­ing on the best friend and wid­ower left to grieve after the early death of angel­ic über-femme Laura (Isild Le Besco).

The con­struc­tion is less delib­er­ately arti­fi­cial than that of Swim­ming Pool, or Ozon’s pan­to­mimey 8 Women, but there’s still an unset­tling per­fec­tion to the world that Claire (Anaïs Dem­ousti­er), her hus­band Gilles (Raphaël Per­son­naz), and Laura’s griev­ing wid­ower Dav­id (Romain Dur­is) inhab­it. ROMAIN DURIS! If you haven’t seen The Beat That My Heart Skipped, go and rent it now; he isn’t in Une Nou­velle Amie quite enough, in a move I sus­pect is delib­er­ately tan­tal­ising, and although Dav­id provides the plot, it’s the changes in Claire that pro­pel the story. Dem­ousti­er is incred­ibly watch­able, a clear, intel­li­gent com­mu­nic­at­or, let­ting Claire’s con­fu­sion and grow­ing game­ness shine through.

The film unfolds in a dreamy French sub­ur­bia, its action nearly exclus­ively con­fined to the three main play­ers. It is loosely based on a Ruth Rendell short story, but where for Rendell’s middle-class Eng­lish char­ac­ters the body’s drives are to be feared, for Ozon’s bour­geois­ie they bring curi­os­ity and delight, as well as alarm.

It’s impossible to write more about what hap­pens without spoil­ers; hope­fully it’s enough to say that this is one of those films you feel they had a good time mak­ing, that it’s gor­geous to look at, and the swoony beauty and humour are all to a cause, ask­ing what we really know of oth­ers’ sexu­al­ity, or of our own, until we are exposed to some­thing new. Even in this softly sham­pooed, per­fectly lit world, intim­acy, hon­esty and lack of judge­ment are the most import­ant things in love.

Love at First Fight/Les Com­bat­tants, the debut fea­ture by Thomas Cail­ley, is one of the smartest and most charm­ing romantic com­ed­ies I’ve seen in ages. Arnaud (Kév­in Aza­ïs), whose fath­er has recently died, is spend­ing the sum­mer in his small sea­side town, help­ing his older broth­er con­tin­ue the fam­ily build­ing busi­ness. The army is in town recruit­ing, and dur­ing a beach wrest­ling ses­sion with loc­al youths Arnaud has to face down Madeleine (Adèle Haenel), anoth­er young con­tender, and finds him­self doing whatever it takes to get the upper hand.

Madeleine would not approve of Ozon’s plush com­forts: she sees immin­ent envir­on­ment­al and fin­an­cial cata­strophe; dis­aster is com­ing and it will be each one for her­self. If you have to work out con­stantly and be able to stom­ach sardine milk­shakes to sur­vive, so be it. Through her exper­i­ences at army train­ing camp, and Arnaud’s slowly fig­ur­ing him­self out, the film explores sur­viv­al, duty, team­work, indi­vidu­al­ism and vul­ner­ab­il­ity with a sense of the absurd and quiet romantic joy. The young act­ors have ter­rif­ic chem­istry and the writ­ing is fresh, funny and compassionate.

Twenty years after La Haine (take a minute, those of you who remem­ber see­ing that at the cinema like it was yes­ter­day), May Allah Bless France!/Qu’Allah bén­isse la France! by Abd Al Malik, based on his mem­oir, is anoth­er black and white film about young people in the under­priv­ileged sub­urbs of a French city — this time Stras­bourg — amidst a mix of music, gangs, racial dis­crim­in­a­tion, media pre­ju­dice and heavy-handed poli­cing. This is a much more loosely struc­tured, auto­bi­o­graph­ic­al tale, fol­low­ing Régis as he grows from a con­fused teen into a young man. He excels at school and strives to become a suc­cess­ful rap­per, but it’s not until he embraces Islam that he finds peace. It’s a slow-mov­ing and very per­son­al story, dot­ted with some nice detail among the styl­ist­ic col­lage (doc­u­ment­ary and music video ref­er­ences drive the visu­als; Camus’s The Myth of Sis­yphus is ref­er­enced a lot, and under­pins the theme). When Régis, now call­ing him­self Abd Al Malik, argues with some older boys over his devout wear­ing of the thobe while pros­elyt­ising on the streets, one of them points out his train­ers: “You think the Proph­et wears high-tops?”


The Alli­ance Française French Film Fest­iv­al fea­tur­ing these three films — plus anoth­er 29 — is on at the Embassy Theatre from 11 to 29 March.