Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 24, 2022 6:34 pm 
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Rag boy is a drama queen

For both French and American audiences Nicolas Maury is known for his most notable role, as Hervé, the febrile comically over-anxious gay assistant of partner and agent Gabriel Sarda in the popular TV series "Dix pour cent," known in English as "Call My Agent." Perhaps you should leave it there. Maury's directorial debut, which he co-wrote and in which he also stars, winds up, despite the excellent and hip pens of Maud Ameline and Sophie Fillières, seeming a bit too much of a clueless vanity project. What we get is an series of egocentric vignettes: Maury in night shirt, Maury in shorts, Maury in gauzy costume for the stage, Maury saved from drowning by nuns, Maury with French cinematic icon Natalie Baye (as his mother to whom he retreats in the provinces), Maury with a cute puppy; and, last but not least, Maury posed beside two notable hunks cast as outgoing and incoming boyfriends (Arnaud Valois for the former, Théo Christine the would-be latter). Maury's fellow "Call My Agent" cast member Laure Calamy is presented as a good friend and allowed to perform a long howl, a feat of misguided overacting that should have been left on the cutting room floor. The theme of an actor in crisis, plagued by fits of jealousy and a growing lack of confidence, who repairs to his mother's house in the country to regroup, feels undeveloped and its various narrative parts seem cobbled together with no valid dramatic progression.

And all the while there is that fragile, whiny voice we know from Hervé, not so funny any more now because it turns out to be simply the way the man talks. As Nicolas Schaller wrote in Le Nouvel Observateur, Maury finally "shows a certain talent for reconciliation scenes," but the wait for them to come will seem very long unless you "share the anxieties of a hyper-emotional drama queen who has watched too much Xavier Dolan and Christophe Honoré." As ab IMDb citizen review poignantly comments Maury's "affected delivery gets on my nerves ;his hangdog look is more exasperating than moving."

Dramady this is, but the funny parts are hard to perceive when so much is self-absorbed and maudlin. It's certainly absurd when Jérémie, Maury's long-sufferingly self-absorbed character, gets someone to tell this not particularly healthy-looking forty-year-old he's still highly qualified to play a teenager. But is it funny ha-ha or funny peculiar? And if he says in interviews that Jérémie isn't him ("I'm not as egocentric," he told 20 Minutes) why did Maury choose as the title (Garçon Chiffon ("Rag Boy") a pet name he says his mother called him because of the way he used to drag a ragged pillow around as a sensitive boy?

But raggy pillows aside, the big question is how this movie got to premiere in Competition at Cannes. Connections and a star-studded cast may have played a part. But, despite feeling I sometimes "get" French movies other Anglo critic s don't, it feels like the content of this film may play to aspects of French culture I still don't connect with. That's suggested by not only the Cannes spot, but the fact that the AlloCiné press rating is a respectable 3.5 (70%) with high ratings from the critics one expects to be discerning such as those for L'Humanité and Les Inrockuptibles. Cahiers du Cinéma calls the film "a star vehicle" (using the English words) and suggests, no doubt rightly, that Maury has made a film about the kind of actors who can't quite separate their roles from their own personal dramas.

This is a type that can be hard to make congenial. But the problem here is not just the character, which Maury as usual plays for all it's worth, but the fact that nothing that's happening feels as urgent or convincing as it thinks it is. Natalie Baye's role is underwritten: she's one of so many things that are merely pasted in, and for an actress as solid and soulful as her that's a crime. I love cute puppies - they're soulful too - and this one is as handsome as he is sweet; but he is a blatant device to warm up the mother character, then stage a touchingly intimate scene with the hunky veterinarian soon-to-be-ex (Valois). The scene's well done; so are others. But it's not organic enough. And the lack of connections in the structure don't get by because the comedy-drama doesn't keep up a fast enough pace. Better luck next time, M. Maury, and now why not try something a little less exhibitionistic?

My Best Part/Garçon chiffon, 108 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes 2020. The pandemic cinema closings prevented a release in theaters, but there was a César nomination for best first film (the winner was Deux by Filippo Meneghetti. There was a French theatrical re-release May 19, 2021. Five or six other festivals. AlloCiné press rating 3.5 (70%), but the spectator rating is 2.3 (46%). Opening February 25 in Los Angeles and on VOD on multiple platforms.

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