Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 27, 2015 1:47 am 
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A trio of Paris friends and would be lovers looking scruffily gorgeous

Louis Garrel's directorial debut is a very French spin on the subset of romantic comedy known as the bromance. The story, co-scripted by Christophe Honoré, for whom Louis has been a kind of muse, starts out with a sort of Cyrano situation. Clément (French indie cinema's resident lovable sad sack Vincent Macaigne), who tends to fall for girls out of his league, has now come to adore the radiant Mona (Iranian star Goldshifteh Farahani), and so Abel (Garrel) intercedes on his behalf. But obviously Mona is irresistibly beautiful, and the tall, tousle-haired Garrel is the unmistakable leading man here, the pudgy, balding Macaigne the natural sidekick.

First off, Les deux amis/Two Friends has much pleasure to offer to the senses. Claire Mathon's cinematography was shot in luscious 35mm. color film; composing great Philippe Sarde did the score, and there is superb sound design by Jean Rabasse. There are lots of closeups of faces, in which each of the three principals is very flatteringly served. Garrel does not spare us generous helpings of his own striking mug; and Macaigne's angelic baby face and alabaster skin nicely set off Farahani's olive complexion, which in turn sets off her big, luminous eyes. Mona is feisty; Clément (as usual with Macaigne) is an innocent with heart on sleeve; and Abel is what Garrel often plays, a slightly pretentious but lighthearted bad boy,who here is seen initially running around with an underage girlfriend (Mahaut Adam) and partying with Asian hookers. He's an odd match for Clément. But this is about how hard young men work to be friends with each other.

Beyond the sensuality, there's a Gallic talkiness, with constant onscreen discussions by the trio in various combinations about friendship, love, and how they may fit into them and with each other, or not. Each is a kind of slacker. Mona's in jail (we don't know exactly for what), but let out by day to work in a Gare du Nord pastry shop. Abel pumps gas at a parking garage, though he considers himself a writer. Clément is a movie extra, with obviously time to fall for girls Abel may steal. Honoré-Garrel may not achieve a Nouvelle Vague vivacity in the action (though there's lots of Hollywood rom-com-style running around), but they keep things bubbly, even when the scenes get frantic. Mona will turn into a pumpkin if she isn't back to the prison on the right train, and her willingness to party at a disco gets in the way of that. As a lark, all three of them wind up playing part of the crowd in a film recreation of the Paris 1968 riots -- a nod to Louis' indirect link to this moment via Bertolucci's The Dreamers and, more importantly, his father Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers, which bears an anthemic relationship to this legendary time -- whereas this film shoot is just silly mayhem, though it's broken by Clément's suicide attempt.

There are other scenes in the prison; at the Gare du Nord; in a hospital; a disco; a church full of elderly worshipers; in the streets of Paris day and night -- and near the end, in a scruffy hotel. It's the Hotel des 3 Nations, 13 Rue du Château d'Eau, as we learn from Mona when she does the right thing and calls up the prison authorities to come and get her after she's gone AWOL. The friendship of Abel and Clément survives. And Louis Garrel keeps it light. Time will tell if this good-looking, lively trifle plays well Stateside.

Les deux amis/The Two Friends, 100 mins., in 35 mm. debuted at Cannes Semaine de la Critique May 2015 and opened in French theaters 23 Sept. AlloCiné press rating 3.6.

Review on Film-Forward

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