Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 05, 2023 9:15 pm 
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Chaotic tale of Ivoirian mother and her two sons in France is an uneven but someteimes brilliant film, and it nails profound finale

Léanor Serraille's Cannes Caméra d'Or debut Montmarnasse Bienvenue was a film I didn't get, and not from want of trying: I watched and reviewed it carefully twice, in Paris and NYC. But however one may question a white woman signing the decades-long saga of an African mother and her two boys (but Seraiile does have a black family), this surprises and sparkles. It's fresh, it's memorable. Mother and Son/Un petit frère is one of the best French films in recent memory.

Spanning early childhood when they first arrive and stay in the sister's tiny place in Paris and later years when both boys have grown up and changed, it''s divided in three parts: mother, (Rose; the fun-loving, and so much more one) older brother (Jean, the brilliant, doomed one, who crashes and is sent back to Africa), and younger brother (Ernest, who becomes a teacher of philosophy, after discovering Flaubert, bitter, distanced, but standing on his feet).

Frédéric Mercier, Transfuge; "Without ever seeming to want to 'say' an unequivocal message on the issue of emigration, but choosing to make us think about it thanks to the complexity of the links between these three characters (played by formidable actors, notably Annabelle Lengronne), the emotion prevails during a splendid melodramatic finale." Indeed! A marvelous finale.

Fernando Ganzo writes in Cahiers du Cinéma: "The passing of the years introduces a novelistic impulse which, despite a lack of momentum and a sociologising tendency, gives the film an unexpected breadth. Both ambitious and modest, the story maintains the constant tension between unity and uprooting of the trio of protagonists." Therein lies its complexity and its originality.

It's the eithties and the nineties: a son's mention to Rose of Kool and the Gang establishes a moment. Perhaps with a stilll-youthful explicitness, Seraille has Ernest as a student teacher of philosophy in the lycée conduct a discussion about time. What's important is to establish that Rose and her two sones are out of synch and she lives in a desperate post-colonial age. Only one of them has made it, since Jean, the brilliant one, has been sent back to the Ivory Coast when he grew out of control, and he winds up only dreaming of getting a taxi driver's license. Ernest is the only lucky one, and he lvies in a somewhat bitter bubble, in a personal world where he might feel French, were it not for the unwarranted, racist police ID stops.

Jacky Borner, France info Culture: "The filmmaker does not escape a conventional realism, but also shows flashes of brilliance which, here and there, improve the film."

Léonor Serraille, whose debut feature, despite my non-responsiveness, was a critical success in Paris and included in Rendez-Vous 2018, returns with this rather complex, sometimes painful portrait of the relationship between an African immigrant mother and her sons. Upon arriving in France from the Ivory Coast in 1989 with two young children, Rose (Annabelle Lengronne) finds work as a hotel cleaner. The loving and exuberant but erratic mother’s penchant for partying means that she has trouble attending to her job, let alone to her studious sons, Jean (played by Stéphane Bak in adulthood) and Ernest (Ahmed Sylla). Spanning 20 years of their ever-shifting relationship, Serraille demonstrates rare nuance and sensitivity in this thoughtful portrait of an Afro-French family.

Mother and Son/Un petit frère, 117 mins., Feb. 1, 2023 French release; AlloCinee press rating 3.5 (70%). Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, NYC (Mar. 2-12, 2022) Showtimes:
Monday, March 6 at 6:30pm (Q&A with Léonor Serraille)
Wednesday, March 8 at 1:00pm

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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