Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu May 10, 2012 5:59 am 
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Meet Me, Meet Me, Meet Me...

Chercher le garçon is the feature debut of Dorothée Sebbagh, who has collaborated and co-written with other French directors, Emmanuel Mouret, Serge Bozon, Jean-Claude Brisseau, Valérie Donzelli, the latter on her auspicious, but unseen in America, Queen of Hearts, whose structure into short scenes resembles this one. Chercher le garçon focuses exclusively on the quest of Emilie (Sophie Cattani), a thirty-something designer in Marseille who becomes so obsessed with seeking a boyfriend (the generic "garçon" of the title) via an apparently compulsive Internet dating site called Meet Me that her life is disrupted: she can barely eat, sleep, or work. achieves a certain unexpected depth in spite of, perhaps also through, its seemingly repetious structure. The film is a succession of mostly online-arranged encounters, in which Sebbach narrowly but pretty successfully sidesteps the danger of sinking into the purely novel, cute, or anecdotal. She is neutral toward Internet mate-hunting, neither defending nor attacking it. In the succession of miscellaneous men the director isn't out to create a facile, entertaining arc of contrasts or jokey missteps. The sequence is unexpected and uncalculated. Actors were allowed to improvise freely, and what happens has a casual documentary quality, without seeking extremes. The main thing is, Emilie is a good sport, and keeps on hoping every time, but things keep on not turning out. The brevity of most of the encounters is a limiting factor, but they way the scenes play gives them particularity and depth, while avoiding over-cuteness or sentimentality.

The first guy just smiles after a little conversation and says thanks but no thanks. The next one, without a moment of hesitation, jumps immediately into a romantic, poetic, sexual affair, which the game and flexible Emilie initially accepts, till she is forced to declare that while he may be in love with her, she is not in love with him, and it's over. After that there is a succession of personalities that at the same time are examples of varying male dating-game strategies or syndromes. The "dancing man" who, well, dances. Such initial gambits may be attractive, origial come-ons for some, but not for others. Emilie lets it stop there. She's game and cooperative -- however far-fetched this may seem -- with the kinky but harmless weirdo who poses Emilie semi-nude out of doors with tiny dolls. This is hardly the prelude to a relationship. Then there are the guys who don't show up, or fail to turn up for the second date, or who, like Hicham (Aïssa Bussetta) are so shy they initially send a substitute. Emilie loves Christophe (Christophe Carotenuto), the substitute, and begs him to consider her. Alas, he declines, but she does get to meet Hicham (Aïssa Bussetta).

Importantly, because it changes pace and resets the assumptions, Emilie follows the hint of her girlfriend Audrey (Aurélie Vaneck) that according to "an Arabic proverb" the real rendezvous are those that happen purely by chance. And so what does Emilie do? She sets herself up for a "chance" encounter, of course, by planting herself on a park banch. Finally an overweight jogger collapses in front of her, coughing and choking for air. Well, it's a chance meeting, all right. He turns out to be a very nice married man just abandoned by his wife. They start a friendship, that centers on jogging. Being ouside the online matchmaking loop, it's a relationship that can continue, for a while anyway.

More significantly, someone sees her by chance and takes an interest. A guy called Amir (Moussa Maaskri) runs into her down by the harbor when she's been stood up, holding two ice cream cones. He's mature, lonely, no doubt, seems solid and sincere, and better still, owns a boat. She says no. He will turn up again though, and his lack of connection to any dating game makes him seem authentic to us, and perhaps to Emilie.

Cattani, debuting here in a major role and in a romantic comedy, was previously seen in the late Claude Miller's I'm Glad My Mother Is Alive, Tomboy and Polisse, She has a rubbery quality, a good humor and flexibility that make the rapid sequence of encounters seem possible, even fun, till she confesses to Audrey that Meet Me has taken over her life. . Her many expressions mix hope, determination, innocence and disillusion. Chercher le garçon's postcard landscapes and conventional musical backgrounds don't add much, but the raw material of the encounters and dialogue functions well enough to explain why in a dry season, this film, which emerges is not as lightweight as it seems, has been well received by French critics.

A graduate of the prestigous Paris film school la Femis, Sebbagh reports having been deeply disappointed after repeated efforts to begin features were thwarted at the outset. This first film was the product of a subsequent mood of desperation when she had virtually lost all interest in writing and filming -- Emilie's trying and trying but not giving up may be a metaphor for Sebbagh's efforts to start her career. The film was shot ultra-simply, with a digital still camera. She admits to a great admiration for Eric Rohmer. Screened for this review in Paris at MK2 Hautefeuille May 10, 2012. It opened on a few French screens May 9 to generally favorable reviews (Allociné 3.5). No other information available; further prospects are highly doubtful, though this would not be unworthy of foreign DVD release, at least.

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