Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Jul 07, 2005 10:10 pm 
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OUASSINI EMBAREK, ISILD LE BESCO: À TOUT DE SUITE

Breathless (new) beginning

This black-and-white thriller romance sneaks up and grabs you with an intimate but almost wordless portrait of doomed love. If it loses you toward the long end of the flight the heroine goes on, it's because the psychological portrait doesn't find the intimate "objective correlatives" the two principals alone provided to start: Jacquot's moody "Amazonian" muse, Isild Le Besco (Lili), and her poetic and dangerous "ephebe"Arab lover, Ouassini Embarek (Bada).

Jacquot, whose earlier films have been glossy and studded with stars like Isabelle Huppert and Daniel Auteuil, stripped to basic DV for this character-centered Seventies "fugue" that he has said does just what he wanted to do, 24 frames per second. Without the complications of an elaborate production, working on location in Morocco, Spain and Greece and in a grand appartement bourgeois like a sparer version of the one in Bertolucci's Dreamers, tight close-ups and a free-swinging camera spin out a compulsive study of obsessive, out-of-control wandering.

The girl studies drawing, not very seriously. Escaping a tiresome boy, she and a girlfriend go into a louche restaurant where they meet a couple of pretty smooth petty hoodlums. In the background lurks the dark, long-necked Bada, whom Lili goes home and draws a portrait of. The scene is set. She and her girlfriend go out dancing with the two guys. Embarek, who won't give his name, comes home with Lili and won't leave. Their passion is soon sealed. The girl is ready to dump her comfortable background and risk all. The boy buys her baubles with suspicious wads of cash.

Nothing gets in the way of this romance. Not even a call that he's in deep trouble, on the run from police. Can he come there? Yes, she says. He brings an accomplice with another bourgeois girlfriend. Then the running starts, and the fear. They've got fake passports, but no better trick to get the money over into Spain than sneaking off a train. Going into Morocco later they stuff it inside all their clothes. It's like a long vacation. They live well. Then the hot money can't be traded without big losses and they start living poor.

Eventually there's a snag at Greek customs and Lili is kept from the other three. They're scared and leave her at the airport. She begins wandering on her own, desperately hoping that Bada will find her again, as he has promised her he would always do. This is where the film, which had the intense impulsiveness of its title ("Right Away"), begins to slow down.

The subplots of people helping Lili in Athens aren't particularly memorable or relevant, and her long depressive silences clash with her sudden smiles. Eventually her voiceover picks things up and explains her way back home, where she's brought to justice as an accomplice of her vanished, but condemned lover.

She gets off with probation and finds a job with Club Med on an island -- which was where Bada said he wanted to end up. But he's no more. And Club Med is an anticlimactic ending for this frantic, hypnotic tale. Jacquot worked with great freedom, but he needed to edit more closely and rethink his second half. If twenty or thirty minutes had been trimmed from the girl's wanderings and a few more revealing scenes had been added, the film wouldn't have gotten bogged down in the true story its based on, whose psychological aspects the director needed to reinvent more thoroughly.

Nothing can completely spoil the breathless intensity of the first half hour. Jacquot's involvement with his young muse and the chemistry between her and her Arab lover are reinforced by spare scenes and dialogue and the simple black and white images -- even though lacking the beauty and tonal range of real black and white film stock -- create a memorable mood. Le Besco and Embarek are very good indeed and the camera caresses their faces and bodies just enough to make you not forget. But working free doesn't mean not having to edit tightly. I think this story needed to end differently to be true to its promise. The psychological portrait has to be more penetrating to justify the abandonment of the film noir excitement that we began with. It's too bad something so intense and economical has to end up dragging. Even so, Jacquot's new spare style links brilliantly with the whole film tradition of doomed criminal lovers that's as rich in French as in American cinema.

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©Chris Knipp 2005


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