Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 07, 2013 9:44 pm 
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Brotherly love triangle

In Miss and the Doctors the talented French writer and film critic Axelle Ropert continues the examination of tricky family relations and romantic ties she began with her 2009 Cannes Critic's Week debut The Woberg Family (R-V 2010). This time there is more focus, a distinctive urban setting, and a touch of noir. Two brothers, Boris and Dimitri Pizarnik (Cédric Kahn and Laurent Stocker), who are doctors with a joint practice, fall in love with the the same woman, a beautiful and implausibly elegant barmaid called Judith Durance (Louise Bourgoin), who's the mother of one of their patients, Alice (Paula Denis) -- a preternaturally composed and bespectacled preteen with diabetes that requires constant watching. Ninety-five percent of the action takes place in the working class, predominantly Asian 13th arrondissement of Paris, an important player here, which, especially since Judith works at night, makes for much gloriously garish and noirish color imagery by Céline Bozon, who also shot Woberg's good-looking rainy images and is the sister and cinematographerofr actor-director Serge Bozon, who plays a friend of the brothers. (There is also a Paul Bozon, relation unknown, who plays a character called Rémi.) I have so far used the word "implausible" only once, but it will come up again. Much is to admire and enjoy about Ropert's work, but her writing background may lead her to invent more on the page than can make sense on the screen.

This is in part an illustration of the small and sometimes inbred world of French film, which leads to overlapping functions. Cédric Kahn has written and directed a number of films, only acted thrice, most recently in Elie Wajeman's cool, noirish, also Jewish-focused Aliyah where he plays the reverse role, the no-good addict brother. This time he's the dominant one, overshadowing his more hesitant blond brother Dimitri who's an alcoholic. We see Dimitri share rather oddly at several AA meetings. Boris' flaw is that he's overbearing and a bit gruff, which fits with Kahn's naturally deep, rough voice.

Besides Alice, Boris and Dimitri have other patients, of course, notably Kay (Alexandre Wu), a young epileptic who doesn't want to take his meds because they make him unable to get it up. "You don't understand, you don't have a girlfriend," the teen tells Boris. Of course Boris does, as it slowly develops, but this shows how odd and personal doctor-patient relations, not to mention doctor-patient-parent ones, tend to be in this movie. Things are dicey also with Annabelle (Camille Cayol), the brothers' medical secretary, who's in love with Boris. It doesn't seem like this double-doctor thing has a future and in fact it doesn't, and Annabelle has to be let go as a result of poor returns.

Things go back and forth between Judith and Boris with Dimitri's alcohol issues and desire to compete for Judith in the way. And Alice's father Max (Jean-Pierre Petit ), absent in Italy for a decade, reappears in response to a random phone call from Judith. The reappearance of Max is one of several ways the conflicts and their resolution both seem increasingly implausible -- there's that word again -- toward the end. There's a cute scene between Alice and Kay, the latter now working at a slurpy shop, with another, junior medical romance now hinted at, but it seems just a contrivance. So also is the way the sibling doctors just happen by pure chance to be called in to treat a medical problem of Max's, when he's just back but hasn't yet seen Judith.

What's noirish is Judith's barmaid lifestyle, and the slightly dicey, colorful, and largely nocturnal 13th arrondissement as seen in Céline Bozon's nice images. Another contrivance is Serge Bozon's scene as an intermediary friend (named Charles) sent back and forth one evening, Cyrano-like, between Boris and Judith to determine their feelings. Dimitri is reluctant to believe he's not in the running -- Ropert may have a bit of a thing for doomed romantic relationships. When Dimitri's hopes crumble the joint medical practice also disbands and Dimitri sets up a practice on the French Riviera; his glimpsed office seems to look right out onto a resort beach. Miss and the Doctors -- whose more sensible if hard to render French title means "Stick out your tongue, Miss" -- at this point seems to have dissolved into an American-inspired rom-com, and some of its basic pretenses have dissolved with it. But Ropert is original certainly and both her films use handsome visuals nicely to build the sense of particular location. These is a good use of actors -- even the static Bourgoin from Anne Fontaine's mediocre Girl from Monaco becoming a striking icon of mysterious beauty. Music by Benjamin Esdraffo (of Bozon's La France) adds a verve that helps the locations come to life as part of the story. Jordan Mintzer of Hollywood Reporter, in an enthusiastic review that links this film with late Truffaut, comments that the music "reveals shades of New Wave composers Michel Legrand and Georges Delerue."

Torez la langue, mademoiselle, 102 mins., opened theatrically in France 4 Sept/ 2013 and was well received by local critics (Allociné press rating 3.6). Screened for this review as part of the San Francisco Film Society's French Cinema Now series (shown at Landmarks's Clay Theater 7-10 Nov.).

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