Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 22, 2016 3:45 am 
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Rounding up all Ahmeds: tribulations of an ordinary man trapped by circumstance

Or two ordinary men, really, because a young French victim of a mugging makes a mistake, and accuses an innocent Arab man, whose face he just remembers because it was in a job interview film. But Eddy (Nicolas Duvauchelle, who has a tragic James Dean quality, and a back covered with tattoos) has alcohol and rage problems, which are going to lead him downhill. This is a powerful film, which blasts us with its extreme closeups and the shocking intensity of its action. It's a well made, and superbly acted film, rich in messages about class, ethnicity, and the trap of wage poverty. But the only trouble is, it's not clear what the point of it all is.

Ironically, a violent incident proves a stroke of good luck for Eddy, when he plunges into a fight involving young car radio thieves in front of a cité (housing estate), and he gets badly beaten. At the hospital he seems to be considered a hero, and his estranged wife Karine (the beautiful Mélanie Thierry) takes him back in, temporarily anyway, and gets him an entry-level job at the big box store Homea where she works and is cozy with the manager, Régis (Nicolas Bridet, underused). Eddy and Karin's tow-headed little boy Noam (a surprising Johan Soulé) worships his dad and strikes macho poses to match him: sometimes we wonder why.

Though Eddy does well moving boxes around at Homea, he is impatient to be promoted, and the fact that Karine is on a first-name basis with Régis is part of the anger and frustration that he feels. He has also begun to live up to what he's called, an "enfoiré," a fuckup, when he mistakenly picks out a young Arab, Ahmed (Driss Ramdi) in a police lineup. Ahmed was about to start a job and about to get married. Now he goes to jail. The French legal system pushes such accusations with a confrontation, and protects the accused as well as the aggressed-against. But Ahmed's life is interrupted only because of his name, and where he was when police did ID checks at a traffic jam. As for Eddy, still a drunk, still angry, still his own worst enemy, he is going to get in more and more trouble. "I'm not a bastard," the French title says, but Eddy's tragedy is that he keeps looking more and more like one, and he can't seem to stop the downward spiral. There is almost a Bressonian resonance about this sad tale.

Director Finkiel seems a slow developer, but won a César for his short film Madame Jacques on the Croisette, and the Louis Delluc prize in 1999 for his featureVoyages. Nicolas Duvauchelle has played a series of gritty roles, and performs memorably here. He's currently remembered for Polisse and the TV seies "Braquo." Mélanie Thierry first gained notice for a lead role in Bernard Tavernier's The Princess of Montpensier. Jay Weissberg wrote an excellent review of this film for Variety based on a viewing at the Dubai Festival 13 Dec.

A Decent Man/Je ne suis pas un salaud, 111 mins., debuted in Aug. 2015 at Festival du Film Francophone d'Angoulême, and was shown in Dec. at Les Arcs European Film Festival.It enters French theaters 24 Feb. 2016.
U.S. Premiere. This film comes out in France 24 Feb. 2016. Screened for this review as part of the FSLC/UniFrance 2016 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, the film's US premiere. Showing Sat., Mar. 5, at 1:00 p.m. and Mon., Ma. 7, at 1:45 p.m.


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