Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 07, 2014 7:50 pm 
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Crossed paths

The relaxed, beautifully constructed film The Dune, the auspicious directorial debut of Israeli cinematographer Yossi Aviram, presents us with a simple concatenation of events. In the prelude before the opening titles, we see a man crossing open country on a bike. Then we see that man, Hanoch (Lior Ashkenazi, Footnote, Yossi) in Israel. He plays chess with an older friend, Fogel (Moni Moshonov), and, seeming lost and distracted after breaking with his pregnant wife Yaël (Dana Adini), sets off from his bike shop with a bike and a big bag on his back. As the film proper begins, Reuven Vardi (Niels Arestrup, The Beat My Heart Skipped, A Prophet) , of the missing persons department of French police, confronts Moreau (Matthieu Amalric, in a cameo), a writer who has run away from his life. The attempt to get this man to return to his wife and kids fails; Moreau commits suicide while Reuven is waiting to take him to dinner. Feeling like an aging burnout, Reuven is back in Paris with his longtime lover Paolo (Guy Marchand, Cousin, Cousine, Coup de Torchon). The whim of the owner's son will force them to move from their familiar apartment. Meanwhile, a young pregnant woman called Fabienne (Emma de Caunes) finds a man unconscious on a river bank, unable to say who he is. Reuven is called on but refuses to take on the case, believing himself finished. But this is a coincidence, a big one. Jay Weissberg, reviewing The Dune at San Sebastien fro Variety, called it "an uncommon film of great sensitivity," and remarked that Aviram "proves exceptionally gifted with his stellar cast, whose nuanced performances find gold in the spare script." Very true. What a pleasure to watch Arestrup and Amalric, two of the best French film actors of the last 20 years, acting together, even if for only a few minutes.

Paths gradually and inexplicably cross. Hanoch is wandering in Paris, trailing Reuven. Then he is found by a dune, with nothing but a clipping about Moreau. The man, who we realize is Hanoch, does not speak. No one is looking for him, he has no identification. Reuven is depressed after his failure with Moreau and retires early, but his boss Audiberti (Jean-Quentin Châtelain) lures him back for for that classic, one last case. And it's a tough one. But he cracks it.

The silence of Hanoch is emblematic of a film in which people speak with their presences and their faces, Arestrup's and Ashkenazi's most of all. Ashkenazi's expressions, which have a soulful machismo that reminded me of the great Vincent Lindon, are of an old sadness being awakened. Arestrup's express a noble, elegant weariness. As Weissberg says, the meandering, mysterious, suggestive film is anchored by the solid relationship between the two gay men, Reuven and Paolo; and also by the limpid images of cinematographer Antoine Heberle. Even in its first few moments, in a brief role, speaking only a few words, Dana Adini quickly establishes the sophistication of this film with her naturalness and air of intelligence. This is an example of how well a movie can work that's delicate and suggestive, weaving its lived-in scenes and convincing cast into a melding of mood and quiet revelation.

The Dune/La dune, 85 mins., in French with some Hebrew, debuted at Haifa and San Sebastien. Release in France will be 13 August 2014. Screened for this review as part of the 2014 San Francisco International Film Festival (24 Apr.-8 May).

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