Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 22, 2016 7:05 am 
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Previously published on Filmleaf.


Life recaptured

Samuel Collardey makes fiction-documentaries. This is a mixed genre in which real people are manipulated for the camera doing things that closely relate to their own lives. Without our knowing just how it's done, we know very well when it works. Judging by the filmmaker's debut The Apprentice/L'Apprenti (RV 2008), about a kid learning how to be a farmer, and this new one, about a deep water fisherman who must spend time on land to show up for his family, when Collardey's at the helm, it works. Without having seen the middle film of his three-film oeuvre, I'd guess Land Legs (whose French title Tempête of course means "Storm") is his most complex work in the genre yet, and an engrossing, touching film.

Dom (Dominique Leborne) is a passionate deep water fisherman who has loved fishing all his life. The director met him on an ocean voyage and fell under his spell, which is understandable. He has the gnarly good looks of the Norwegian bestseller author Karl Ove Knausgaard, and oozes charm and charisma - and a hint of sadness, which will come into play in due course. When we meet him he's at a boozy, crowded singalong at a Cork, Ireland bar. At the end of the sequence, Dom climbs atop a chair and spreads his arms, king of the feast. With its rich wide-screen 35 mm shots, the camera instantly, irresistibly captures the good feeling and warmth and draws us into the protagonist's world.

Besides the sea, Dom loves his kids, his 16-year-old adopted daughter, Mailys (Mailys Leborne), his wife's daughter by an unknown, unseen father, and his 15-year-old son Matteo (Matteo Leborne), who resembles him and shares his love of fun. Dom's times at home often begin with partying and we see a bunch of people at his house drinking and smoking joints, Matteo and Dom included. "I'm the adult here," he declares, kicking out a merrymaker, but he seems more like a big brother than a dad, though the rapport is great. He's a cool dad, and Matteo and Mailys like the freedom.

Somehow Dom manages to juggle long periods at sea with being a father. Though he and Matteo's mother are divorced, he has custody of Matteo and Mailys. Dom's mother (Chantal Leborne) fills in with the kids while he's at sea. But when Maillys gets pregnant, and the pregnancy must be terminated for medical reasons, it causes a rupture, because Dom is at sea during the crucial, traumatic event. Doubly wounded, Mailys goes to live with her mother, and a local social worker questions the status of things. Something has to change.

Dom quits his fishing job and enrolls in a four-month training course to qualify for a boat captain's license and sets about to acquire a small boat he hopes to maintain with Matteo as his first mate. But he lacks the experience or the financial resources to get the support of the fishing board or the primary loan from the bank, and he goes through a period of such penury that the cut-off heating causes Matteo also to decamp, and consider working for her new boyfriend, a mason.

The film shows how the principals weather all this in a positive way and follow Dom experiencing the realities of trying to enter a new life that doesn't really suit him.

The result is a bit of Ken Loach, a bit of the Dardennes, and a lot of Collardey. The process this time involves such adeptness in getting people to play themselves that it's almost distracting if you know they're doing that. But Collardey has successfully assembled a collection of magic moments when he caught lightning in a bottle, one lively, emotional scene after another with never a wrong note. What he did with The Apprentice was simpler, almost pure documentary, following a training period at an unspoiled country location. Here there are crowds, officials, parties, heart-to-hearts, fishing, a rough time at sea - you've got it all, above all scenes between Dom, Matteo, and Mailys that flow like magic. The Apprentice, the purer effort, did better with French critics (and it won the Prix Louis Delluc for best first film and other prizes). But this didn't fare at all badly either. Dominique Leborne won Best Actor at the debut in Venice's Orizzonti category, and the film was nominated there for Best Film.

Collardey's passion is as much visual as humanistic. At the prestigious French film school La Fémis he focused on cinematography, and he continues to shoot in 35mm and wide screen, juggling that with the speed and intimacy of catching action on the run. The screenplay was co-written by Catherine Paillé. Music composed by Vincent Girault provides background at once for the roaring sea and Dom's own tempestuous times.

Tempête/Land Legs, 89 mins., debuted at Venice 9 Sept. 2015; four other festivals. French theatrical release 24 Feb. 2016 to good reviews (AlloCiné 3.9; but The Apprentice was 4.1). Screened in connection with Mill Valley Film Festival, where it shows 11 and 13 Oct. 2016.

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