Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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THE RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA 2017 - SÉBASTIEN BETBEDER: JOURNEY TO GREENLAND/LE VOYAGE AU GROENLAND (2016)

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THOMAS BLANCHARD AND THOMAS SCIMECA IN JOURNEY TO GREENLAND

Overgrown boys' adventure

Betbeder is the cinematic poet laureate of the Parisian perpetual adolescent, the twenty-something, now thirty-something, amiable loser. In 2 Autumns, 3 Winters, this person was embodied in Vincent Macaigne with Bastien Bouillon as his best mate. This time the two pals are Thomas and Thomas (Thomas Blanchard of Poilon Friends and Thomas Scimeca), who go on a visit to Kullorsuaq, one of the most remote parts of Greenland to see the first Thomas' father, who went to live in an Inuit village decades ago. The two Thomases met in acting class where they failed at improv and quit together (yet they are now part-time actors). Again as with 2 Autumns, the story is anchored by a voiceover (by Thomas 1, Blanchard). Nothing much happens. This will strike some viewers as lame and unimaginative. Indeed Betbeder takes few chances. But there is a documentary authenticity, a charm and a sweetness to make matters appealing.

There is little going on but Thomas 1's concern about his father's heart and Thomas 2's attraction to a pretty local girl. As the ever-disapproving Cahiers du Cinéma says, they are twiddling their thumbs in their shared bedroom: "why travel 4,000 kilometers for this gag?" Well, because it's life. Thomas 2 is circling fingers trying to remember how the solar system works: they're so cut off from the usual world he's forgotten. Maybe these two doofuses aren't too bright. But in amping up the naiveté Betbeder also makes the guys seem curiously cuddly. The action is filled by introducing us to a succession of locals at parties and gatherings where there's singing, dancing, smiles - and no liquor: they town barred it, because it caused trouble. Apart the partying, the Thomases learn to hunt seals and are honored by being allowed to kill one. A boy has committed suicide: we learn the Internet generation has become disturbed by the limited options - go to the capital, which is tough, or stay and be a hunter in the traditional life, which is tough.

The ways language distances people has never been clearer. Thomas 1 has studied an Inuit phrasebook, and now Thomas 2 is working on it, but aside from "hello," "goodbye," and "thank you," they don't know much. Subtitles tell us what the Inuit are saying that the boys comically misinterpret. When Thomas 2 makes the big speech he's memorized making a play for the pretty girl, she tells him thank you but she has someone; he guesses she's expressed interest. Always there is this barrier, the guys speaking French, everybody else (including Nathan) speaking Inuit.

There is the inevitable moment when the finger-twiddling guys lose their patience with each other. Thomas 1 allows that Thomas 2's Daniel Auteuil imitation isn't that funny. But it passes. Here as elsewhere Betbeder has kept it light.

The climactic event is perhaps a non-event: Thomas 1's inability too talk to his dad about his possible heart trouble. Runner-up is their nerve-racking last-minute effort to get on the internet to bring their social security job report up to date. They must list their few gigs every month by deadline to remain eligible for benefits. And this moment, with a bunch of locals gathered around as they log in on a borrowed computer a kid takes them to, seems quite real, as does their farewell tour around the village delivering complimentary French pancakes to all the people they've befriended during their stay. Maybe Betbeder's success is thanks to not trying too hard.

Journey to Greenland/Le voyage au Groenland,, 98 mins., debuted at Cannes in the ACID (Association du Cinéma Indépendent pour sa Diffusion) program May 2016; four other festivals. French theatrical release was 30 Nov. 2016, to good reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.5). François Forestier wrote in Le Nouvel Observateur "It's often funny, intelligent, and very pleasant to watch." Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Unifrance 1-12 Mar. 2017 series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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