Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PIERRE SALVADORI: IN THE COURTYARD/DANS LA COUR (2014)

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OLEG KUPCHIK AND CATHERINE DENEUVE IN THE COURTYARD

Indulgence of losers

Catherine Deneuve deserves credit for taking on the totally unglamorous role of the retired social worker Mathilde, but this film's light eccentric comedy is overwhelmed by content that is inexplicable and pointlessly downbeat. It all takes place in that classic locus of French cinema, a big bourgeois apartment building. Here the distracted, nutty Mathilde, without quite paying attention, persuades her husband Serge (Féodor Atkine) to hire a very unqualified, unconvincing applicant to be the building's new concierge (more modernly now called gardien). This is a mess of a musician who's run off from his performing career due to drug problems and general confusion. His name is Antoine (Gustave Kervern). The idleness of retirement seems to be making it hard for Mathilde to maintain her own sanity and sense of balance. Like Antoine, she can't sleep, and she becomes so worried by a crack in a wall of the apartment that she creates paranoia about crumbling foundations in the whole neighborhood. For a while, Mathilde bonds with Antoine, finding his gentle, distracted quality soothing. For her his disarray strikes a common chord. Director Salvadori lets this play out for a while, till it all collapses.

Best known for light comedies like Après Vous, director Pierre Salvadori shambles around from one tone to another, as a series of foul-ups occur due to Antoine's inability to maintain discipline in the building. Antoine just lets a crazy Slavic security guard named Lev (Oleg Kupchik) distribute fliers for a creepy cult and then provides him with a place to stay, and even hosts his large guard dog. He also allows Stéphane (Pio Marmaï), an ex-athlete who's broke but owns one of the apartments, to store his collection of bikes in the courtyard, against Serge's wishes. Antoine turns out to have a serious cocaine habit that he shares with Stéphane.

This is a tale where people go from being amiably ditzy to being dangerously out of control. Eccentricities are played for laughs, but the humor begins to fail because psychological and drug problems and social malfunction aren't funny. The way the issues Mathilde faces are resolved is facile and unconvincing. That she would go so far wrong and then would snap back to being right again so easily is implausible, and Antoine's charm comes to seem pathetic.

In the Courtyard/Dans la cour, 97 mins., debuted at the Berlinale; some other festivals. French theatrical release 23 April 2014 with very solid and admiring reviews ("a little gem of tenderness," 20 Minues); AlloCiné press rating 3.8. Shown as part of the FSLC/uniFrance-sponsored Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center in New York in March 2015, its North American premiere, where it was screened for this review. A US theatrical release is coming via Cohen Media Group.

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