BIFF 12 - Late August, Early September - Cinema Review

'threatens for a long time to be your typical French artisans film, where a variety of impossibly carefree and sexy characters spend a long time smoking cigarettes... then it spends even longer threatening to be a masterpiece.'

Late August, Early September, showing as part of the Olivier Assayas retrospective, threatens for a long time to be your typical French artisans film, where a variety of impossibly carefree and sexy characters spend a long time smoking cigarettes and having long evening meals with a never-empty carafe. Then it spends even longer threatening to be a masterpiece.

Initially though, if you've seen anything in which French natives eat dinner, you'll be reminded of some other film, right at the back of your mind. You'll also be reminded, especially if you've seen The Beach, why you used to have a huge crush on Virginie Ledoyen, who simmers as the rather stereotyped 'racy-character-with-a-bit-of-sexual-deviance'. Pry your eyes from her for a second and you'll spot a cast full of the leading contemporary lights in French cinema; Mathieu Amalric and François Cluzet, in particular, Jeanne Balibar perhaps less so, but glance down her filmography and you'll spot plenty to recognise.

Assayas shoots the group predominantly in close-up, putting us in amongst them, as the plot slowly winds up from a friends-without-money style drama, to a point where everything changes, to the final third which begins to show the characters unravelling their ideas and world views. It's hardly revolutionary stuff but each individual in the film has an arc you can believe in and sympathise with, particularly Amalric, whose shortcomings and foibles Cluzet's character makes clear for us all to see.

It is those two who steal the limelight often but without the allure of Ledoyen and the radiant presence of honest centre Balibar, nothing would work as well as it does. Assayas constructs a film which forces you to care about the four main characters and then gives them things to do which you can invest in. It says something when, for short periods, you can actually feel yourself missing the presence of someone when they disappear from view for a little while. A masterful character drama, which avoids the Gauloises-smoking clichés through the medium of fine scripting and intimate direction.




The 18th Bradford International Film Festival runs from 19th - 29th April at The National Media Museum and several satellite venues in and around Bradford. It includes a European Features competition, the Shine Short Film Award and several major UK premieres and retrospectives.

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