Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 11, 2006 8:06 pm 
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NOT HERE TO BE LOVED

Stéphane Brizé’s Not Here to Be Loved /Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé is the mournful character study of an aging, divorced court bailiff (a hussier de justice) who hand-delivers eviction notices and requisitions property -- a distasteful job and business passed on by his father which he understandably hates -- and on weekends goes to a retirement home where his father -- the dad from hell, whom it's utterly impossible to please -- makes cruel remarks to him. Life has little to offer the dour and unsmiling Jean-Claude till he starts going across the street from his office to attend a tango class (first glimpsed enticingly from afar like the dance studio in Almodóvar’s Talk to Me). There he meets and starts seeing a much younger woman.

At his first class, he’s approached by another student, Francoise (Anne Consigny), not because she’s attracted to him but because his mother babysat for her when she was little. She’s supposed to be marrying a schoolteacher named Thierry (Lionel Abelanski) whom she's already living with, not altogether happily. He has taken off half a year to write a book and does nothing but complain about how badly it’s going. Francoise is obviously as displeased with Thierry as Jean-Claude is with his entire life. Both suffer with what the French call "mal de vie." Francoise and Jean-Claude are both bottled up and with their awkward silences they send confused signals to each other.

The movie isn’t a happy ride but develops conviction and a subtle life-affirming feel thanks to the nuanced performance of sad-faced Patrick Chesnais – which got him nominated for a Best Actor César last year. Perhaps one of the reasons the French can make a film like this is their well-established willingness to see aging, unhandsome men as potentially attractive to the likes of Emmanuelle Béart and Catherine Deneuve. Chesnais has a kind of dignity that neither his deeply lined face nor his hangdog manner can erase. Anne Consigny is subtle as the lady friend, and longtime veteran film actor George Wilson is formidable as the hateful and ultimately pathetic father. Minimalist and depressing this film is, but not boring, because director and cast wring the ultimate riches from every moment.

There is much subtlety and humanity in this film, whose minimal plot and minimalist style give the actors and their characters maximum room for development within a narrow but compellingly real range of emotion. But for some the result may be a bit overshadowed by other treatments of shut-down male characters like Daniel Auteuil's violin-maker in Claude Sautet's luminous Un coeur en hiver. It seems possible that indeed this film in the series will not be picked up for US distribution because it's so downbeat. If so, a pity, because this movie is not only a subtle character study but one that's very French.


[Rendez-Vous with French Cinema]

(Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé opened in Paris October 12, 2005.)

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