Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 05, 2015 4:02 am 
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KHEIRON, LEÏLA BEKHTI IN NOUS TROIS OU RIEN

A serio-comic homage to Iranian parents

In Nous trois ou rien French Iranian descent standup comic Kheiron, known from Jamel Comedy Club and the Canal+ TV mini-series "Bref," directs and stars in his first film, a recreation of his parents' lives as a popular family epic interspersed with running comic elements. Hibat (Kheiron himself playing his father) and Fereshteh (Leïla Bekhti), who eventually wind up in a Paris banlieue winning honors for community work, are an Iranian lawyer (but without degree--because he's been held in jail for anti-Shah activity) and a nurse he meets after he gets out of prison and quickly and joyously marries. The couple's decision to leave the country and take their shared revolutionary ideas to a new land comes after the Shah's dictatorship has been followed by the Ayatollah Khomeini's worse one. The film is in two halves, Iran and France, the second half being more specific and colorful and the first more idealized and conventional.

Nous trois ou rien has won enthusiastic praise for its revolutionary sentiment and its liberal populism. But though it's a lively tale of liberal democratic ideals transposed to a new country, the film did not work well for me, for several reasons. First of all, though the seventies Iranian settings look authentic enough, everybody in the Iran scenes speaks French. Second, despite what are surely the best of intentions, Kheiron's mixture of comedy with the grim experiences of two brutal Iranian regimes and a heroic and terrifying escape from the country necessarily leads to further wrong notes.

The second half finds Kheiron at least in familiar territory, since he grew up with his parents in France. (They also later bring over her parents (played by Gerard Darmon and Zabou Breitman; his family's many members are not followed up on as closely.) The Iranian part he has to imagine, and tends to feel more generic. Some of it, such as the prison experience and Hibat's brutal beatings and solitary confinement for refusing to eat cake in prison to "celebrate" the Shah's birthday, and later the young couple's escape from Iran to Istanbul across an awesomely limitless mountainous landscape, isn't remotely funny or meant to be. Yet the film begins with a jocular presentation of Hibat's family of twelve siblings, and includes absurd scenes of the Shah himself broadly played by comic actor Alexandre Astier reprising his turn as King Arthur in the French TV series "Kaamelott."

As things become challenging rather than life-threatening once the couple are in France, things move faster and the tone becomes easier to keep consistently light; but it's, obviously, impossible to show the couple struggling with French, as Audiard so convincingly does in his Dheepan, given that Kheiron has his parents and everybody else speaking fluent French from the first frame of the movie. On the other hand, Kheiron's depiction of the couple's energetic social work within their adopted cité of Stains is a welcomely positive focus on finding solutions and building multicultural integration in the banlieue rather than using that setting, as is more frequent, as a location for crime or action movies.

It may seem unsporting of me to point out this movie's obvious shortcomings. After all, Nous trois ou rien is a homage to the filmmaker's parents that's as warm-hearted as it is evidently well-deserved. But you have to cut this movie a heck of a lot of slack to see it as a success in artistic terms. Comparisons to Marjane Satrapi 's graphic novels and her filming of them with Vincent Paronnaud are likely, but even her successes have varied. Her film realization of the dry, politically accurate early one Persepolis, works much better than the second more fanciful and saccharine Chicken with Plums. Arguably Kheiron is trying to do something harder than Satrapi is in representing Iranian realities and trying to keep it (sometimes) light in a regular feature film. But Satrapi is also luckier and wiser in Persepolis in keeping the grimmer experiences of her family in the background.

Hibat, as embodied by Kheiron, is a tidy little guy with an attache case at the cité, now winning the confidence of banlieue tough guys and turning their lives in a positive direction when they learn he's done far more jail time than they have and was beaten for refusing to eat cake. He is almost a different person from the heroic struggler in Iran, and this second part seems like a different movie, probably one more truly suited to the actor/filmmaker/writer's talents.

Nous trois ou rien ("All Three of Us or Noting"), 105 mins., debuted at Tokyo in competition in September 2015, wining the Best Director prize there. It opened in French theaters 4 Nov. to generally positive reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.6; but Les Inrockuptibles, Cahiers, Libération and L'Humanité did not review it and Le Monde and Le Nouvel Observateur were unfavorable). Screened for this review at Cinéma Gaumont Opéra (côté Capucines) Paris 5 Nov. 2015.

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KHEIRON, GÉRARD DARMON, LEÏLA BEKHTI, ZABOU BREITMAN IN NOUS TROIS OU RIEN

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