Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 06, 2015 2:30 pm 
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Quiet superhero

Vincent is the kind of original little film they can make in France because there is funding. Thomas Salvador goes entirely his own way in this low-keyed super-powers tale; in fact in this first feature he both directs and plays the eponymous main character. Vincent is in most ways an ordinary man , almost below ordinary, slightly inept and virtually non-verbal. He's no more adept at ping pong than he is speedy at his little construction site jobs. But when he enters the water, or is doused with it, he has ten times the strength of an ordinary man. In the water he can swim as fast as a speedboat, or dive in the air like a dolphin, or shoot out of a pool straight up onto the land. These are the few moments when special effects are used, and there is no music save for a lighthearted song at the end that suggests that while there is real magic here, we need not take it too seriously.

I've always said that magic or the supernatural seems most real in low budget films; that fancy CGI just reminds us we're at the cineplex. When, on the other hand, the impossible is faked in a quiet, low keyed (and low budget) crabwise manner, that's when it grabs you and makes you think: what would it be like if this really happened?

If this is a superhero in the making, he's in the earliest stages. He doesn't really know what to do with his powers, other than enjoy the special feeling it gives him to be wet and magically powerful.

Thomas Salvador has a slightly seedy look; not that of a conventional movie star. But he's also lean and lithe and young looking. He's hard to categorize. He speaks so little, Buster Keaton has been mentioned. This wordlessness also points to the strange power he has. What's the use of talking? He can't explain himself, and he dare not try. He seems to have become aware of it only recently himself.

It's summertime in the south of France, Vincent's current job is near a lake, and swimming is something everybody's doing. But he goes for his swims privately; among other bathers he seems afraid of slipping into behavior that will seem freakish or scary. His reserve is a little strange. He doesn't exactly lack confidence, but he's very shy, and the social skills aren't there. His new girlfriend finds him, rather than he her. As Lucie, the up-and-comer Vimala Pons has a wildness and vivacity that's a good match for Vincent's superpowers. Watch her long naked caress in bed, when she slides the length of Vincent's body and slips toward the floor. After a bit he reveals his talents to her; it's a measure both of her spirit and her caring for him that she takes it quietly in stride. Driss (Youssef Haji), Vincent's pal and coworker, doesn't know about his aquatic transformations. Not, that is, till mistreatment of Driss by a coworker lead Vincent to come to his defense in a way involving a cement mixer. (He douses himself with a big bucket of water to get the strength for this.)

What follows is an precipitous chase where, in Keystone Cops style, Vincent stays just a hundred meters ahead of men of Gendarmes in frantic pursuit in boats and on foot. Where is he going? far across the water? Wherever it is, Alexis Kavyrchine's nice photography makes the forest scenery sing. But just as Salvador has begun his story with no origin story, he lets his exciting finale fizzle away. Luckily, the action in the middle is fresh and oddly real.

Vincent/Vincent n'a pas d'écailles ("Vincent doesn't have scales"), 78 mins., debuted at San Sebastian September 2014 and has played at nine other mostly European festivals. Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival, May 2015. It opened theatrically in France 18 February 2015 and fared extremely will with the critics: AlloCiné press rating 3.9, with top marks from the hippest (and often non-unanimous) Cahiers du Cinéma and Les Inrockuptibles, a good sign that this is original stuff. They like a director who flies by the seat of his pants, as here. They call it pure cinema.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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