Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2016 7:59 pm 
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A Lebanese girl experiencing a little of everything in Paris

Lina Karam (Manal Issa) is an eighteen-year-old Lebanese girl who has come to Paris from Beirut on a student visa and her uncle and aunt, with whom she installs herself, enroll her at the university. The only trouble is that her uncle wants to rape her. And this is where the beautiful, spirited, and fearless Lina sets out on her own, persuading a classmate to take her in, getting odd jobs, switching from economics to art, being involved with three different guys. The Lebanese-born director Danielle Arbid says this isn't an autobiographical film, but it's set in the early Nineties, when she was in her twenties, and everything seemed possible. In this fourth feature, she delivers a shopping list of experiences: struggle with bureaucracy that wants to expel her; struggle with her own family; politics (fascists, racists, and would-be revolutionaries play roles); dancing, music, sex. It's a breathtaking compendium, and might have left a stronger impression if Labid had pared down a bit. But she and her charming, pretty star make it work, even if it's just a little bit of everything ending, a little lamely, in a renewed residency permit.

It is impossible not to be charmed by, and involved with, Lina's little adventures, some of which have the highly cinematic "naturalism" of early Nouvelle Vague films. One is horrified by the predatory uncle in the Paris suburbs, and astonished at the quarreling family when she's back home. One worries when she's charmed by the rich bearded seducer Jean-Marc (Paul Hamy); and one is charmed too by the unambitious young waiter-musician-traveler Julien (Damien Chapelle, of whom we should see more). One wonders if Raphaël (professional teenager Vincent Lacoste) is grownup enough for her; but then he introduces her to leftist activism, and he's such a funny guy. One watches through her eyes the show-off-y Sorbonne lecturers, including art survey prof Madame Gagnebin (Dominique Blanc), who turns out to be a lifesaver when LIna's legal status gets iffy. The action is absorbing and delightful, and Labid is really good at bar-disco scenes and alternative rock (via Julien, who takes Lina to a Black Francis concert, shown in very rough, obviously preexisting footage).

All this is just great, and Manal Issa's buoyancy and authenticity and luminous Lebanese beauty never fail us; the family scenes in Lebanese Arabic are, needless to say, utterly authentic and something not seen often in French films, where we get lots of Algerian or Moroccan dialect but not other forms of the language.

It's rather nice to have a French film about immigration (because this is essentially that) where the immigrant isn't a hard case and the presentation isn't earnest and ownbeat. But after a while one realizes that this story has no teeth in it. Lina's teflon coating and good luck mean her mishaps lack emotional punch. As Gérard Nectoux wrote in Cahiers du Cinéma, this film is "as inoffensive as a bouquet of flowers." Despite its rich surface and knowing detail, that, and the excess and repetitiveness of incidents, keep this charming effort from being surprising or memorable.

Parisienne/Peur de rien ("Fear of Noting," a good description of Lina's personality), 12o mins., debuted at Toronto Oct. 2015, showing also at Dubai and Gothenberg. It opened theatrically 10 Feb. 2016 in France, to an excellent critical reception, with an AlloCiné press rating of 3.7 averaged from 23 reviews. It was screened for this review as part of the 2016 New York City Lincoln Center-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, shown to the public Thurs., Mar. 10, 4:00 p.m. and Sat., Mar. 12, 1:30 p.m. (both followed by a Q&A with Danielle Arbid).

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