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The Twelfth Annual Cinéfranco Film Festival

Le premier venu (Just Anybody)
Directed by Jacques Doillon

It's difficult to envision just what writer/director Jacques Doillon set out to accomplish with Le premier venu, as the movie suffers from a pervasively inauthentic atmosphere that's exacerbated by the presence of an astoundingly underdeveloped central character (Clémentine Beaugrand's Camille). The wafer-thin storyline details Camille's efforts at cozying up to a man (Gérald Thomassin's Costa) who seems to have next to no interest in her (and who may or may not have raped her at some point in the past), with her quest bringing her face-to-face with a number of far-from-fleshed-out figures - including a sleazy real estate agent (François Damiens) and a friendly police officer (Guillaume Saurrel's Cyril). Doillon essentially drops the viewer into Le premier venu's eye-rollingly quirky landscape with nary a whiff of exposition or character development, and it's consequently not surprising to note that the film is often nonsensical to an almost maddening degree. Doillon's stubborn refusal to transform Camille into a sympathetic (or even plausible) figure plays an instrumental role in perpetuating the movie's increasingly interminable atmosphere, as Beaugrand - who actually does deliver a fairly strong performance - is essentially forced to maneuver her character through a variety of situations that are hopelessly contrived and downright superfluous. The resulting 121-minute running time is nothing short of excruciating in its overlength, and there's no denying that Le premier venu ultimately possesses the feel of an entirely needless cinematic experiment.

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Les liens du sang (Rivals)
Directed by Jacques Maillot

Set in 1979, Les liens du sang details the exploits of two siblings - Guillaume Canet's Francois and Francois Cluzet's Gabriel - as they endeavor to reconcile their differences following Gabriel's release from prison (where he had served a 10-year stint for murder). Francois, a police officer, attempts to set his brother on the straight and narrow by putting him up in a spare room, and though Gabriel does manage to land a job and a girlfriend (Marie Denarnaud's Nathalie), it's not long before the hard-bitten convict finds himself slipping into his old habits. It's an admittedly familiar premise that's employed primarily to positive effect by director Jacques Maillot, although the deliberate pace and lack of exposition ensure that the movie's opening half hour isn't quite as involving as one might've hoped (ie some of the characters and their corresponding relationships are initially fairly difficult to decipher). It's only with the increased inclusion of unexpectedly enthralling interludes - ie armed thugs attempt to kidnap the daughter of Francois' girlfriend - that the viewer is slowly-but-surely lured into the proceedings, with the superb work from Canet and Cluzet (as well as the authentic '70s atmosphere) certainly playing an instrumental role in the film's transformation from a passable drama into an absorbing crime thriller. And while Gabriel's relationship with Denarnaud's character is more than a little tough to swallow - ie it's exceedingly difficult to believe that a sweet twenty-year-old would want anything to do with a grizzled ex-con in his fifties - Les liens du sang's proliferation of positive attributes ensures that the film finally is finally able to render its almost routine set-up moot (with the downright unpredictable third act undoubtedly a key element in the movie's overall success).

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Lady Jane
Directed by Robert Guédiguian

The deliberateness with which Lady Jane unfolds admittedly does take some getting used to, as the film boasts a premise that would seem to lend itself naturally to a fast-paced, downright electrifying thriller. It's worth noting, however, that although it's almost entirely lacking in palpable tension, the movie is generally able to sustain the viewer's interest thanks to the above-average efforts of leads Ariane Ascaride and Jean-Pierre Darroussin. The storyline follows Ascaride's character, a well-to-do shop owner named Muriel, as she reluctantly agrees to collaborate with two men from her mysterious past after her teenaged son is kidnapped, with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around Muriel's efforts at getting her boy back safely and, eventually, seeking revenge for his abduction. There's little doubt that Lady Jane benefits substantially from the inclusion of several impossible-to-predict twists and turns within the narrative, as scripters Robert Guédiguian and Jean-Louis Milesi slowly but surely reveal the role that the central character's illicit past has played in her current predicament (ie a decades-old murder is involved). It's only as the movie passes the one-hour mark that one's attention begins to seriously dwindle, with the presence of several head-scratchingly superfluous interludes - ie Muriel visits a dying associate - ensuring that the whole thing peters out long before the end credits roll. Still, Lady Jane generally manages to put an effectively low-key spin on its undeniably lurid subject matter - yet it's ultimately impossible not to wish Guédiguian had infused at least a few of the film's scenes with a more overtly urgent sensibility.

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© David Nusair