'All Yours' ('Je suis a toi'): Karlovy Vary Review
Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competition)
Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Monia Chokri
Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Jean-Michel Balthazar and Monia Chokri star in Belgian director David Lambert's second feature, largely set in a bakery in Hicksville, Wallonia.
A scrawny Argentinian rent boy hopes to make some dough working at a bakery in small-town Belgium in All Yours (Je suis a toi), the second feature of Walloon director David Lambert.
As in his first feature, the Cannes-selected Beyond the Walls, the quotidian details of a same-sex couple’s living arrangement—relationship, in the romantic sense, would be the wrong word—feel authentic, but the writer-director’s character-driven focus is undermined by a few attention-grabbing plot twists in the film’s second half. Nonetheless, this should see some action on the festival circuit after its world premiere at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, where it won a best actor nod for Argentinian lead Nahuel Perez Biscayart.
The film opens with Lucas (Biscayart) doing an extremely explicit webcam show from a tiny bedroom somewhere on the pampas that ends with him begging into the virtual void: "I have no friends or family, send me a ticket and I’ll be there." Cut to Brussels Airport and then the Francophone Belgian city of Hermalle—a couple of miles down the dirt road from Seraing, where all the Dardenne movies are set—where a plump and lonely baker, Henry (Jean-Michel Balthazar), welcomes him with open, hairy arms.
The very different body types of Henry and the scraggy Lucas already suggest they’re perhaps not all that compatible, and the rent boy initially balks when he understands he doesn’t have his own room but is expected to simply share the master bedroom with Henry. Nonetheless, the duo quickly fall into a routine that finds them getting up very early to bake fresh loaves, baguettes and pastries that Henry’s coquettish employee, Audrey (French-Canadian actress Monia Chokri, here with a flat, nondescript French accent), sells when the store opens in the morning.
Thankfully, for Lucas, Henry isn’t a creep with bad intentions, but neither is he a completely well-adjusted and rational human being. Lambert suggests as much in a couple of astonishing sequences in which the flabby baker dances balletically around the bakery to the tune of an Offenbach operetta, throwing handfuls of flour into the air like he’s God’s gift to Cirque du Soleil instead of a naive baker from Hicksville, Wallonia. It adds not only a touch of eccentricity to an otherwise quite realistically told tale, but on a more subliminal level helps suggest why Henry might be the kind of person who would sincerely believe that sending a plane ticket to a stranger found on the Internet will satisfy his needs for both a companion and an unpaid extra pair of hands in the bakery.
"Bread is made in the same way the world over," Henry boasts as he puts the clueless Lucas to work, though the idea that in Lucas two of the world’s oldest professions might be united is otherwise sadly left undeveloped, a general tendency that hampers not only the entire film but was also a problem in Lambert’s first feature. Instead, to infuse the until-then low-stakes action with the necessary drama, the writer-director springs not one but two major narrative surprises on the audience about an hour in, altering the overall dynamics to such an extent that the film’s two halves barely seem related in terms of the protagonists' desires or even the movie's genre.
That said, the actors are all in fine form. Balthazar, who has played small parts in several films from the Dardennes, already portrayed a baker in Lambert’s short Vivre encore un peu… (actually shot in the same bakery). Here he’s generous, loveable and a bit naive, all things that Lucas, as played by Biscayart (Deep in the Woods, Glue), is not. When, during a visit to a funfair, the happy-go-lucky Lucas needs money that Henry doesn’t want to give him, Lambert explains everything with a cut to a brief shot of the rent boy on his knees, moving in on the penis of a john. Clearly, for this pragmatic young man, money and sex amount to the same thing, although he’s out of his depth where emotions and love are concerned.
The contrasts between the two men are numerous but Lambert doesn’t have the time to explore all of them, especially because the second half devotes more time to Chokri's Audrey. The actress, from Xavier Dolan’s Les Amours imaginaires and Laurence Anyways, is a warm presence, but her character remains too underwritten to be anything more than a conveniently present third person, despite sketchy attempts at a backstory.
From a technical point of view, the film is adequate, with Lambert making especially good use of cinematographer Johan Legraie's camera inside the bakery. In the credits, there’s a thank-you mention for “all the prostitutes that inspired” the director, suggesting some elements might have been shaped by true stories.
Production companies: Frakas Productions, Boreal
Cast: Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Monia Chokri
Writer-Director: David Lambert
Producer: Jean-Yves Roubin
Director of photography: Johan Legraie
Production designer: Frederic Delrue
Costume designer: Frederic Denis
Editor: Helene Girard
Composer: Ramachandra Borcar
Sales: Filmoption International
No rating, 102 minutes