Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2017 4:28 pm 
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Wan fantasy

For this inexplicable and embarrassing film (based on an ambiguous news story), the director has managed to enlist two young actors who have done very well for themselves. Guillaume Galliene, who plays Jean Firmino, the director of a women's prison, is a member of the Comédie Fraçaise, and received rave reviews for his directorial debut Les Garcons, et Guillaume, à table for which he also received the 2014 Best Actor César. Adèle Exarchopoulos, who plays Anna Amari, a young prisoner with whom Firmino has a forbidden love affair, came on the scene as costar (with Léa Seydoux) of Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winning La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Color), the most sensational and memorable French film of 2013. If this film was meant to add something risqué or dark to their resumes, the effort is a failure. Nobody will remember this movie.

Jean Firmino is a fonctionaire, a French government employee, whose effete manner no one remarks on, though he seems an implausible person to be running a prison, even one for women. Gallienne's big hit film was an adaptation of his own comic autobiographical one-man-show about growing up confused and straight in a family where everybody thought he was gay. None of that will work here, and maybe he just hasn't assembled a suitable persona. His character has a young daughter and a wife, who don't seem to interest him much; we don't know why. When Anna comes along, she is young, pretty, and full-bodied, but neither of them seems to display much emotion. Anna is sent back and forth to another prison when she's taken to court for sentencing (she gets maybe nine years but has already served maybe half that: but who cares? we're not even tod her crime till the end). At this point Firmino arranges to have her work at a desk job where she's nearby, and the affair soon begins.

He's crazy in the risks he takes, but it seems more bad judgment or sex addiction than passion: the whole thing is a pretty cold-blooded business on both sides. She justifiably complains eventually that he's using her: discovery will mean she's in deep trouble, and he has all the power in the situation. I was never that big a fan of Adèle Exarchopoulos in Kéchiche's film. It seemed to me that the lion's share of the acting was done by Léa Seydoux. Here, it's not clear what kind of person she's supposed to be. She simply seems a cool, emotionless person. There are no hints of the violence or crudity that might have gotten her in jail. She seems like a middle class girl. The odd thing is that the prison itself, the environment, physical and human, is relatively convincing. The women in the cell and in the kitchen where Anna works seem, even if in imitation of Kéchiche or Audiard, colorful and authentic. But as soon as the camera turns on Firmino or on him and Anna, we're in the world of some women's magazine melodrama of decades past. Fans of wan erotic fantasy may be happy. Others needn't bother.

Godeau's first film, Juliete, was not a great critical success either (its AlloCiné press rating was a meager 2/8), but this one did worse (2.7). In Les Inrockuptibles Théo Ribeton called it "an embarrassing failure." He will need to change direction, or his future doesn't look bright.

Down by Love/Éperdument, 110 mins., debuted in Paris 25 Feb. 2016; was released in French cinemas 2 Mar.; later release came in the UK, Lithuania, Russia, Hong Kong, Greece, and Japan. VOD release in the US 24 Jan. 2017 by Distrib Films US.

Correction: The VOD release date for this film has been postponed to 31 Jan. 2017 on iTunes; and 6 Feb. on Google Play, Amazon, Comcast, Charter, and VUDU.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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