Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 25, 2011 6:08 pm 
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Cluttered French ghetto musical

Audrey Estrougo's Toi, moi et les autres ("You, Me and the Others") is a cheerful but fundamentally uninvolving French ghetto musical with a sort-of "Westside Story" theme but recyclings of preexisting pop songs, that, despite a sexy cast (Leïla Bekhti, Benjamin Siksou, Cécile Cassel), is dead in the water. A meandering and uninvolving plotline desperately grabs at significance with a dig at Sarkozy's anti-immigrant policies. The wealthy young slacker Gab (Siksou) from the good part of town, engaged to be married in two weeks, and the French-Algerian girl Leïla (Bakhti) with lawyer ambitions who lives in the multicultural African and North African Goutte d'Or quarter of Paris make a cute odd couple, but they never get the songs or the feelings or the tragic conflicts that would make this worthy of mention in the same breath with the classic Laurentis-Bernstein musical. Still this movie has charm and good will (and adorable leads) and its recycled hits still have a lilt at times. Retitled Leïla, it was a selection at Rome and some lesser-known festivals.

Estrougo, whose 2007 I Ain't Scared/Regarde moi was a much more realistic film about the Paris Banlieue, deserves credit for doing a French musical that doesn't copy Demy. But what can't be forgiven is the clutter and the inability to engage any solid emotions. Every time anybody goes into the street in Leïla's 'hood, it's jammed with brightly colored dancers doing hip-hop numbers. When Gab takes Leïla to his family's huge flat, the arrondissement is totally empty. We get the idea. It's Leïla's idea too: the upscale world has no life in it. But Christophe Honoré's (much better) Love Songs shows that white Parisians can sing about their love lives too, and when Louis Garrel, Ludivine Sagnier and Clotilde Hesme traipsed around the damp streets of the Bastille, you really felt you were in Paris and not on a tacky movie set. Estrougo could not focus on the posher world of Honoré's better Love Songs, but she could have benefited from observing that movie's light minimal touch. Honoré's songs were completely unexpected, but expressed each time an essential emotion of one of the characters. Estrougo's here, like the dancing, are more forced and heavy-handed.

Strictly from TV sit-com are Gab's severe fiancee, his overwrought mom, and his police commissioner dad. And strictly from late-night screenwriter's desperation is the whole distracting plotline of the kid brother whose black girlfriend gets arrested with her mother for lack of papers -- and the last-minute effort to get dad to save the girl -- and, when that fails, the still-more-desperate effort to derail the deportation plane back to Africa. Actual footage of demos in the cause of the undocumented add commitment to the film, but what has that got do with the romance of a boy from the XVIe and a girl from the Goutte d'Or? Estrougo can't resolve her romance, so she drops it for a social issue. She should have picked one or the other.

The romance has its moments, though, and an outrageous attempt at Bollywood deserves credit for audacity. If the movie had slipped completely into camp it might be worth watching. As it is, it may provide some fun for musical comedy fans. As Jacques Mandelbaum of Le Monde wrote, "one would have really liked to have loved" this film. But Estrougo was in over her head here.

Toi, moi et les autres AKA Leïla opened in Paris February 23, 2011 to very poor reviews. A recurrent judgment was "terribly naive" and "heavy-handed." Seen and reviewed as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, presented by UniFrance and the Film Society of Lincoln Center from March 3-13 at three locations in New York, the Walter Reade Theater uptown, the IFC Center downtown, and BAMcinématek in Brooklyn.

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