Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Feb 26, 2014 4:47 pm 
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Romantic loser

French cinema-of-the-thirty-something "it" boy Vincent Macaigne agains shows his emotional versatility and conviction in embodying an amiable loser in Guillaume Brac's feature film debut Tonnerre. Brac and Macaigne teamed up for the medium-length film World Without Women previously. The film is named for the small Burgundian town Brac knows well from visiting his grandparents there. The cinematography has an attractive grey sparkle from the snow-coverdd locales of the wintter 2012-2013 shoot in Burgundy and the Morvan. Macaigne has four feature credits for 2013, and three of them (the other two are Age of Panic/La bataille de Solférino and 2 Augumns, 3 Winters) are included in New York's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2014 edition. Though lightweight and somewhat tonally uneven, Tonnerre does have some surprises.

Maxime (Macaigne) is a fairly well-known rocker who goes back to live with his father Claude in the titular village. Has he done this because he loves the peace and quiet and finds it more conducive than Paris to composing songs -- which he prefers to do solo, adding instruments and musicians later? Or was it more because his success and ambition have both begun to fade? Anyway a local journalist, Mélodie (Solène Rigot), evidently an admirer, comes to interview him and after meeting a couple of times Mélodie and Maxime embark on a romantic affair. But very soon, on the pretext of a short trip, Mélodie disappears without explanation. Maxime becomes frantic, then despairing, then desperate. A very nasty unsigned text message comes to Maxime calling him a "pedophile." An old friend has lent him a pistol. . . Maxime tracks Mélodie to her ex-boyfriend Ivan (Jonas Bloquet), whom we've already glimpsed, a tall, trim, handsome, blue-eyed, blond soccer player, who, incidentally, is Mélodie's age. Maxime is a scruffy-haired, balding schlub a decade or so older. Tough competition? Is this to be the revenge of the schlubs? Or an acting out of thirty-something angst?

In the event, Maxime's obsession leads to a scene in a parking garage that's straight out of a crime thriller. A strange idyl is interrupted by an invasion of cops. The resolution seems hurried and a bit fantastic. It's also unclear, both where things are going to go at the film's end and what was actually going on in Mélodie's mind, or what her relationship with Ivan was, exactly. That's too many fudges. There is a sort of subplot of Claude, who had a "story" with a much younger woman decades before. Does going after younger women run in the male line? But is the age difference really so significant in Maxime's case -- or is the problem all due to Mélodie?

Brac deserves credit for risking the genre twists, despite the tonal unevenness that causes. It may all which work better in the magical wintry locales. But plot and characters are underwritten. Hence it's hard to feel very involved. Maxime's musical identity isn't convincing, and it's hard to see why either Ivan or Maxime would go ape over Mélodie. Some use of local non-actors works and some doesn't. One winemaker's bizarrely inappropriate lewdness combines whimsy with bad taste. Nonetheless Brac shows some indie promise here, after all. His eccentricity seems unlikely to play well for an international audience yet: maybe next time.

Tonnerre , 102 mins., debuted at Locarno and showed at other festivals. It was released theatrically in France 29 January 2014 and received generally favorable reviews (Allociné press rating: 3.6). Screened for this review as part of the Unifrance-Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (6-16 March 2012). Public screenings in the series:
Wednesday, March 12, 4:00pm – WRT; Thursday, March 13, 7:00pm – IFC; Friday, March 14, 6:30pm - WRT
In Person: Guillaume Brac

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