Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2022 4:38 pm 
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Waltz of sleepy titans

The obvious appeal of Constance Meyer's debut feature is that it dares to be understated and to have little in the way of an evident agenda. We can relax and enjoy little details, get lost in it the way one does in a familiar classic. It could be considered unambitious, but the director has taken on two heavy hitters for her two-hander relationship portrait, a French mega-star and a powerful up-and-comer.

But Depardieu is just being a version of himself (though he's called "Georges," as cover). Déborah Lukumuena, who costarred in the excellent Divines, here as Aïssa, Georges' temporary minder while his regular man Friday is away for a few weeks, is a powerhouse but plays it very low-keyed.

So nothing is happening, except the usual things: Georges is bored with being in movies; frequently loses scripts; eats all the time; shows up late, drunk; hangs out and feels lonely and isolated in his unique, luxurious house; has attacks of terrifying (real or imagined) tachycardia. He gives his little boy a cute puppy, but then the boy's mother won't let him keep it at her house and Georges is stuck with it. Aïssa goes about her wrestling practice, and has a match. She hangs with a woman friend and she has a friend with benefits, Eddy (Lucas Mortier). And in following these activities we hang with this odd couple and see them get comfortable with each other until, when it's time for Aïssa to let Lalou (Steve Tientcheu) take over minder duties again, George doesn't want her to go.

There is no central action or climactic moment to remember. One remembers instead some moments, like the bad scene in the Asian restaurant with Eddy and Aïssa, who were starting to have a good time when Georges, drunk, somewhat implausibly arrives to get the house key he has lost, and sits down and wears out a welcome he never had: this discomfort of this. One remembers Aïssa's bulk, because Déborah Lukumuena is big too, strong enough to knock Georges back with a punch and pull his whole frame back to relieve his tachycardia, another image remembered, because repeated. I remember Eddy's face, shown repeatedly in closeup, changeable yet basically blank. Unfortunately - because this is the only element that's unnecessary - one remembers George's huge deep-blue tank containing rare fish that live in total darkness. This flowery bit of decor seems a bit de trop, but it's the only thing that is.

Jessica Kiang in Variety, one of many generous reviews of the film, begins with very broad irony saying the main character, "an aging movie star with a reputation for uninsurable off-set shenanigans" is "played in a staggering coup of against-type casting" by Depardieu. Yes it is obvious, and the actor has played himself before. But he doesn't always and it's not necessarily easy, or anything you can do without a lot of experience. As for Déborah Lukumuena, there is something curiously alive and magnetic about her, warm, expectant, coiled, genial, humorous. She is very relaxed but a flick of her eyes can be memorable. Above all, since this is necessary for a movie "about nothing," both these great actors are constantly fun to watch.

And so indeed Robust (thanks, for once, for an English title that doesn't reinvent) is a most promising debut - even though it risks feeling a little ho-hum, a little anticlimactic. But this is a wise and promising film.

Robust/Robuste, 95 mins., opening film at Cannes Critics' Week July 7, 2021. Only a few other festivals (Bari, Chicago), French theatrical release Mar. 2, 2022 (AlloCiné press rating 3.6 (72%). Screened for this review as part of the FLC-UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (Mar. 3-13, 2022).

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