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VINCENT MAËL CARDONA: MAGNETIC BEATS/LES MAGNETIQUES (2021) - RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA 2022

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THIMOTEE ROBART IN MAGNETIC BEATS

The boom of youth

In this engaging film Philippe (the winning Thimotée Robart) is a bizarre, but also grand and mignon (tall and cute) young Eighties Breton French everyman imbued with extravagant sound-studio skills, the kind to make a pirate radio station sparkle and crackle. These are the last days of analogue technology before digital came to dominate. The film revels in the tapes and mikes as much as a very different movie celebrating this era for film, Stirckland's Berberian Sound Sdudios. (Tall Timouthé and stubby Toby Jones: now there's an odd couple.) It also revels of course in the music of the era.

For a little while in this swift-flowing tale there are lots of guys around, lots of music and dancing. Mitterrand, the socialist, has just won, and that provides hope also for most of the boy.s Working at their feisty father's garage, "Philou" is never far from his confident, mustachioed older brother Jérôme (Joseph Olivennes, son of Kristen Scott Thomas) and the two of them love playing and broadcasting music at their pirate radio station installed in the attic of a bar. That's what this coming-of-age tale entails: growing into personal flowering during the pirate radio renaissance of the period, after the usual bouts with love, sex, the army, and fraternal rivalry for a girl. More interested in the charismatic Jérôme, she's called Marianne (Marie Colomb), and has come from Paris for a stage in hairdressing, at which she's yet a novice. At pouting and teasing she's a pro. Philou longs for Marianne, but is rather overshadowed by Jérôme in that as at the broadcasting. He has no confidence in his voice. This film is about how he finds it. For now, he lets Jérôme talk into the mike and is content just to "push the buttons."

This is the work of half a dozen writers, and this time that works well. The sense of small-town community and collective energy pervades the busy scenes. A year of military service is still mandatory and will be till 2001 - unless you can get out of it. All his pals seem to land a P 4 (mental) release but a clever ruse of the army examiners, drawing out Philippe's humanity, shows he's only faking and off he goes - to Berlin.

There, away from the town guys and Jérôme, Philippe begins to bloom, meeting the first real friend of his own, Edouard (Antoine Pelletin), who introduces him to British Overseas Radio, whereby he'll avoid early curfew and other onerous military things. His effort to show off a knowledge of spoken English to gain admission is unimpressive - but it doesn't matter after he goes into a display of improvisatory sound sculpture, whipping tapes in and out of slots, flipping switches, weaving sound magic. This scene, a triumph, is one of several dazzling set pieces that make you forget this is the kind of low budget film whose depiction of barracks life has to content itself with the corner of a room and some two-tiered beds. This is the spirit of bricolage, the kind of inspired improvisation and magic-weaving at which Derek Jarman excelled. Magnetic Beats is a movie that reminds you cinema can be at its best when it's hints and suggestion. Look at the voiceovers, where Phliippe's recounting to Jérôme after the fact how it all was. They're a conventional touch whose meaning, not so obvious, is revealed in the final minutes. It's then we come to understand how thoroughly Philippe has become a full-on animaterur, a show emcee, taking on the voice that was once only his brother's, addressing the micro bravely now, at last, in his own voice. For Cardona (and his coauthors) animateur sort of means auteur.

Philippe gets his chops and takes on his own voice at the Berlin British radio broadcasts. Back at home after his year of service, rejecting Édouard's invitation to Paris, other major figures in Philippe's life must depart for this to continue. The drunken Jérôme speeds off toward Spain, and, surprisingly, perhaps - the action keeps you guessing for a while what he will do - Philippe doesn't jump in the car to follow Marianne, who has introduced him, in the flashing rays of a car headlight, to the ways of love. He remains in the little Breton town to run the pirate radio station and become, in his small way, famous.

Given the references to that leading figure of late-Seventies, early-Eighties music Ian Curtis of Joy Division, referred to here as "a young god who departed early," it's hard not to think of him and of Anton Corbijn's splendid black-and-white ode to him, his debut film Control. But Philippe's disposition is sunny, and so is Cardona's film, which folds away rough moments in swift transitions and makes good use of Thimotée Robart's physicality. With his tall frame and baby face, he seems like he's been thrust unawares into life and surprised but not unhappy with what he sees. He's a bit passive, but that seems to protect him and save him for his pirate radio career that begins as the film ends. Often framed at the middle distance, we see him and others in semi-silhouette, picaresque heroes in small genre scenes enjoyed with pleased detachment. Yes, Les magnétiques wallows in retrophilia, and its voiceovers and its basic structure (the rival bros, the love triangle) are conventional. Bit it's a lyrical, joyous nostalgia, in a film that flows with a light touch and a distinctive visual style. Deft and sure, it's a great debut both for the director and for his star.

Magnetic Beats/Les magnétiques, 98 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors' Fortnight (Quinzaine des Réalizateurs), Jul. 9, 2021. It was in festivals at Deauville, Namur, Busan, Leiden, Taipei and Singapore. Released in France Nov. 17, 2021 (AlloCiné press rating 3.7. It was included in the Mar. 3-13, 2022 UniFrance-Film at Lincoln Center Rendez0Vous with French Cinema.

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


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