Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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TRISTANT AUROUET, THOMAS BIDEGAIN, MARC FITOUSSI, CYRIL GELBLAT, VIANNAY LEBASQUE: SELFIE (2019) - SXSW AMAZON PRIME PRESENTATION

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SÉBASTIEN CHASSAGNE IN THE "SMILEAKS" EPISODE OF SELFIE

Digital whirl

The subtitle is "Of the influence of digital technology on decent people." It's a French linked anthology film by a group of writers and in six stories with different directors. The episodes bog down at times in their dogged efforts to make specific points and jokes about every trivial detail of YouTube, social media, dating ratings, trolls and hackers, but the actors save many scenes, which for the most part are cute and fast-paced and benefit from being very neatly interwoven. The directors have solid writing, TV, and comedy backgrounds. France is a bit behind America (one might hope!) in its digital obsessions and addictions, but by the same token this film therefore speaks to both newcomers and more advanced cases of the disease.

1 - is "Vlog," directed by A Prophet writer Thomas Bidegain. A well off couple, Stephanie (Blanche Gardin) and her husband Fred (Maxence Tual) score a gazillion hits vlogging about their younger son with cancer, and staying popular becomes their obsession. The little boy is declared cured of cancer. Now what? They're not interesting anymore, and must find another gimmick to regain those millions of hits that nourished their egos. This family will reappear later. Spoiler: nothing works till their teenage son runs off and joins Syrian terrorists and becomes a YouTube star in his own right.

2 - "The Troll" (epistolary novel), directed by Marc Fitossi, is focused on a prissy lycée French teacher (Elsa Zylberstein) disdainful toward her digital-obsessed students who don't read and YouTube stars who're semi-literate, particularly one known as Toon (Max Boublil) whom everyone in her class is following. Using an expensive new smart phone, she (somewhat implausibly) trolls Toon herself, and becomes deeply enmeshed with him as they develop a virtually epistolary connection. He likes her and promotes her unpublished novel. Who's complaining now?

3 - In "2.6/5" (directed by Tristan Auroulet) Finnegan Oldfield is appealing as Florian Delamare, an eager but gauche young man whose life is governed by an online dating site's rating system. He's in love with a girl who won't date him unless he gets a "5" rating, but he keeps messing up and getting at best a 2.6 or 2.8 and sometimes a zero. Things end badly in this segment that's a more comedic but still dark version of a classic "Black Mirror" episode.

4 - At this point the family with the cancer kid reappears and in their effort to depict themselves as a reality show they are reminiscent of the early Seventies version on PBS, "An American Family," about the Louds. They among others consult a specialist (Esteban) who can upgrade one's online popularity rating for a fee. He will reappear later as a wedding guest.

5 - "Recommended for You" (directed by Cyril Gelblat) focuses on an office worker, Romain (Manu Payet), who believes his Amazon-style algorithm understands him better than he does and consequently buys anything it recommends, even a fishing rod. Only later he realizes he fished with his deceased father as a young boy and this reunites him with his memory. But when the algorithm recommends Viagra, he balks. Then it recommends rope. What will that mean? An ingenious tale that recasts its hero as a blasphemer and idolater. The priest he sees will reappear later in. . .

6 - "Smileaks" (directed by Vianney Lebasque) seems the most like a traditional comedy and focuses on a crowd of guests at a wedding staged on an island that has no or minimal internet. You have to go down to the water to get reception. This gets tricky when the tide comes in and Fabrice (Sébastien Chassagne) must nearly drown to check the bride's personal secrets on a website called Smileaks that has published the fruits of a giant hack into everybody in the world's private data. Then ineternet access moves onto the island and mayhem ensues. A couple pledge a troth - not to be faithful man and wife, but never to search each other's private data.

Finally the parents of the cancer kid become stars on Smileaks by admitting they're the parents of a young terrorist. They gain dozens, perhaps millions, of likes from sympathetic viewers. "We were a happy family," intones the mom.

Selfie, 102 mins., 148 mins., debuted at Toulouse Sept. 2019, then opened to mediocre reviews - AlloCiné press rating 3.2 (64%). It was to be in the cancelled SXSW Festival and was screened for this review as part of the Amazon Prime presentation of some of the SXSW films Apr. 27-May 7.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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