Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 02, 2006 5:05 pm 
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Youthful indiscretion, adult failure

If I'm right that Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes (The Wanderer) is still pivotal in French culture, the slightly disreputable bad-boy mentor remains an essential part of the myth of youth over there. And you'll enjoy Emmanuel Bourdieu's fast-paced, light, but biting study of a role model who crashed, so long as you accept the film's very French, Parisian, focus on getting ahead early in a small, competitive, celebrity-conscious, idea-smitten intellectual world. That's the world the good-looking Alexandre Pariente (Alexandre Steiger) enters when he walks into the Sorbonne literature class of famous writer-scholar Professor Mortier (Jacques Bonnaffé), straight off the train and carrying his suitcase. Alexandre and new arrivals Eloi Duhaut (Malik Zidi) and Edouard Franchon (Thomas Blanchard) are instantly impressed by André Mourney (Thibault Vinçon), who has the audacity to address this first class, speaking with enormous confidence (and some elegance) about the subject of writing.

Alexandre, Eloi, and Edouard become André Mourney's disciples. His theme is always that people only write because they are too weak to resist, and that they must have a good excuse for giving way to that weakness. André is really a terrible boor and ultimately disreputable: but he has more panache than the others, as that opening class showed. He turns out to be destructive, and a liar. A terrible liar. He steals the girl they all want, the librarian Marguerite (Natacha Régnier of Ozon's Criminel Lovers/Les amants criminels and Fontaine's How I Killed My Father/Comment j'ai tué mon père), telling Eloi to burn his love-note to her (because, of course, one should never write love-notes) and then moving in on her himself. He has a good effect on Alexandre, telling him he should really be an actor. That turns out to be true, and Alexandre has immediate success in the French classics. But André's pompous negativism leads Eloi to go out in the middle of the night and dump a novel he's written in the trash. Eloi's mother is a well-known, slightly crazy writer, Florence Duhaut (Dominique Blanc), so Eloi's understandably diffident. But André's influence on him is destructive.

It turns out that André is a protégé of Professor Mortier. But André's so busy pontificating among his peers, he neglects to work on his thesis. He tells Eloi to work on James Ellroy, and suggests there's a scholarship at Berkeley waiting for them both. When things go bad between Mortier and André, the latter leaves, pretending that he is going to an American university. This is the crucial moment when the others, who've been held together one way or another by André (even those among them André has been most abusive to), finally have to grow up and become independent. We already know by now what a rotter André has been. We've seen him open the beautiful Marguerite's laptop and delete a short story she has written. (Eloi finally replaces André in Marguerite's good graces by retrieving it).

Eloi is faced with a problem when he learns his mother has also retrieved his discarded novel, submitted it to her publisher faking his signature, and had it accepted. Eventually he allows it to be published, and it's a great success. He doesn't like his original title though. The new one is: Les Amitiés maléfiques (Poison Friends).

The young actors are all appealing. Malik Zidi will be remembered from Les Temps qui changent, Water Drops on Burning Rocks, and Place Vendome-- and will soon be seen in none other than Le Grand Meaulnes (a new version). The least known till now is Thibault Vinçon (André), whom the director spotted and admired for his "technical brilliance and sensitivity" at an acting workshop. Vinçon reappears at the end, and the way he conveys André's rapid transformation from rising star to instantly old raté (failure) is brilliant.

Bourdieu knows whereof he speaks: he is himself the son of a well known French intellectual and film figure. This is a smart and thought-provoking film whose classic theme doesn't prevent if from being fresh. A sterling choice on the part of the Film Society jury.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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