Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 19, 2012 3:08 pm 
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Banlieue ronde

Djinn Carrénard'S Donoma might invite comparisons with Eric Rohmer, Andy Warhol, or John Cassavetes. He claims to have made his film for pennies, using a digital video camera and a handful of young actors who improvise their lines. Much of the film takes place in St. Denis, the ghetto-esque main "banlieu" or suburb of Paris. The cast includes Salomé Blechmans, Emilia Dérou-Bernal, Sékouba Doucouré, Laura Kpegli, Matthieu Longuatte, Laetitia Lopez, Benjamin Mayet, Amélie Moy, Marina Pelle, and Vincente Perez.

To begin with in a small, claustrophobically photographed banlieue lycée Spanish class, one student, Dacio (Vincente Perez), is disruptive and disobedient and his teacher Analia (Emilia Dérou-Bernal) behaves after class in a totally inappropriate way, rapidly masturbating him through his pants to embarrass him, which she later gleefully recounts to her young female colleagues. But who is the winer on the battlefield of love here? Dacio turns out to be on the make for Salma (Salomé Blechmans), a bourgeois girl who is not a believer but has become obsessed with religion. Salma resists Dacio's advances, though not completely. Meanwhile a black virgin, Chris (Laura Kpegli), originally from Ghana but raised by rich diplomats, now a serious photographer, decides to take as a lover the first stranger she finds in the Metro, and to bring him in to live with her, requiring that they speak only in writing and sign language. The lucky man is Dama (Sékouba Doucouré), a handsome, slim young black man, who later turns out to have just broken up with a (white) photographer, Leelop (Laetitia Lopez). In her search for religious belief Salma eventually takes up with an apparently devout young man, Raîné (Matthieu Longuatte) spotted on an inter-urban train.

This is not all, because there is a social services employee, who interviews both Salma and Dama when he was with Leelop, and Salma gets into difficulties because she insists on caring for her sister, who has terminal cancer. She also thinks she has stigmata and levitates. At a later meeting, the social worker concludes Salma is deranged and needs to be institutionalized. She rejects this and finally meets up with Raîné, in a church. In an intense and challenging encounter he puts her in her place and reveals he is a born again skinhead, who used to be a criminal but now leads a good life.

These scenes and the elaborate choral plotting are often fascinating, the young actors are remarkably vivacious, and the focus on love as couples pair off or break up has a strong link with Rohmer, though the confrontational improvisation more closely resembles Cassavetes. The sexual explicitness at some points justifies the Warhol link. So does the fact that the whole film runs on too long, and could be better if relieved of a solid chunk of its 135 minutes. It is tonally all over the map, moving from the Bruno Dumont-esque religious questioning sequences to the cringe-worthy teacher-student hand-job to the sharp satire of the social worker's polite interview with the couple Dama and Leelop who insist on pretending they're not. Whether this shows the young Haitian-born Carrénard's multiple talent or simply a lack of discipline remains to be seen but he is certainly a talent to watch. Needless to say despite the various comparisons this film isn't quite like any other, and this is why is has been heralded with joy in France.

This film was released in Paris November 23, 2011 and received raves (Allociné 3.9) from the likes of Cahiers du Cinéma, Les Inrockuptibles and Libération, and many of the French critics heralded Carrénard as a breath of fresh air in the world of French cinema. The actors are almost uniformly as talented as they are attractive. Carrénard left Haiti at 11, then after living very briefly in Togo spent two years with his family on the coast of Normandy in France, followed by four years in French Guyana, and then she came to Paris to read Philosopy but says that when "Unlimited UGC cards" arrived (allowing low cost cinema attendance) he dropped out in 2004 to focus on the "moving image," much as Chris in Donoma reports quitting the lycée to focus on using her camera. English subtitles apparently were much improved from the "misspellings and grammatical errors" reported at Pusan, but seem awfully free at times. The tech features are rough and ready: the images work, though some dialogue is marred by uneven sound quality.

Thursday, March 29th | 8:30 PM | FSLC
Saturday, March 31st | 4:15 PM | MoMA

A virtuoso passage from the film on video from which the still above is taken. A girl (Salma) is turned on by seeing a boy (Dacio) picking pockets on the Metro. She takes her valuables out of her wallet and puts in her name and address, and leaves the wallet in her bag so the boy can steal it. It's all observed by Chris, who narrates the sequence.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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