Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:20 pm 
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Upheavals on a Paris day, personal and political

Justine Triet's first feature is a turbulent, boldly integrated and in part highly improvised mashup of two events that take place on the same long day: the squabbles of a divorced couple over the husband's visitation rights to their young daughters, and the climax of the Sarkozy-Hollande French presidential elections. For a little low budget film, this one is surprisingly ambitious and effective. The French title, La Bataille de Solférino ("The Battle of Solferino"), refers to the site of major Paris demonstrations of supporters of the two main candidates on election day May 6, 2012 outside Socialist Party headquarters on the street by that name, but also by association to the smaller but in its way also epic battle between Vincent (French generational cinematic touchstone du jour Vincent Macaigne) and his former wife Laetitia (Laetitia Dosch). She is a TV news reporter who is called out to cover the Rue Solférino excitement, reporting and interviewing participants from both sides. Vincent is a comic and graphic novel artist. Her leaving the two girls with young male babysitter Marc (Marc-Antoine Vaugeois), an aspiring pastry cook, makes it impossible for Vincent legally to visit them. A judge's letter instructs that he must be allowed to see them on the weekend, but only with their mother present. Laetitia blames this contretemps on Vincent, whom she regards as a deadbeat. In a striking proof that the personal is political and vice versa, the babes get dragged to the demo by Marc and Vincent comes following, so everybody has a shouting match. With a keen sense of rhythm and structure, Triet takes the action back to an eventually peaceful finale at Laetitia's apartment, providing a sense of resolution and hope.

Things begin at a fever pitch with Laetitia running around her big disorderly apartment, late for her unexpected call-out to cover the demos, while the two little girls scream and the young babysitter clearly has little on the ball. Vincent is calling, repeatedly, Laetitia's boyfriend Arthur has been there, and Vincent shows up. Laetitia has told Marc he's by no means to let her ex in, or anybody. Marc, overwhelmed, does let Vincent in. Then a neighbor Laetitia has instructed to combat just this eventuality, comes up and forces Vincent out of the flat. Later, the scene shifts to Laetitia in the thick of the crowd doing her reporting. Sound bites follow. Triet takes no political stand. The important thing is the parallel between the politically divided country and the split couple at odds with each other. Citizens love France, the couple loves their kids. But it's all a hyperactive, turbulent mess.

It's hard to imagine how the filmmakers managed not only to shoot the huge gathering of Hollande and Sarkozy supporters in Rue Solférino (sometimes seen from above) and mix it with the specific action of their film, especially when Marc, at Laetitia's instructions, brings the little girls there, and Vincent follows -- all this action taking place amid the teeming thousands of demonstrator-spectators. It's a wonder they didn't lose the kids. But the blend of real and staged events is a tour-de-force that Virgile Dumez of called "un véritable "Red Bull" cinématographique," ("a veritable cinematic Red Bull"). That such epic events are so richly covered by Triet in a mere hour and a half is an accomplishment that shows much promise.

Heavy use of improv marks the various encounters in the film, between Laetitia and Vincent, Vincent and Marc, Vincent and his friend, law student, and de factor legal advocate Arthur (Arthur Harari), and toward the end the particularly droll encounter between Laetitia's new squeeze Virgil (Virgil Vernier) and Vincent back at the apartment, in the wee hours now, when Virgil is extraordinarily nice to Vincent -- and they all hug, including Vincent and Laetitia. Macaigne, a dreamy-eyed, sweet-faced and soulful dude with long hair, beard, and balding pate, is the epitome of the lovable nice guy who's not going to get the French equivalent of a job on Wall Street. He is a young everyman whose nature expresses the sweet heart of modern France that might survive racial tension and political polarization.

The Age of Panic/La Bataille de Solférino, 94 mins. Debut Cannes 20 May 2013, French cinemas 18 Sept. Enthusiastic French reviews (Allociné 3.8), especially from the prestigious and often picky Cahiers du Cinéma. I tried to see this film in Paris in Oct. but kept missing it. Screened for this review as part of the 6-16 March 2014 Lincoln Center-UniFrance series, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

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