'Catch the Wind' ('Prendre le large'): Film Review | TIFF 2017

Courtesy of Les Films du Losange
A tough and sentimental expat drama.

Sandrine Bonnaire ('La Ceremonie') plays a French woman who relocates to Morocco in director Gael Morel’s latest feature, which premiered in Toronto.

There have been countless films about immigrants from Africa or the Middle East making their way to Europe in the hopes of finding employment and, if possible, a better life. But what happens when it's the other way around?

Such is the premise for writer-director Gael Morel’s Catch the Wind (Prendre le large), which stars Sandrine Bonnaire as a middle-aged French seamstress who, after her company relocates to Morocco, decides to move over there to keep on working. It’s a rather far-fetched idea that the excellent Bonnaire, who’s shown a knack for playing working-class outsiders in modern French classics like Agnes Varda’s Vagabond and Claude Chabrol’s La Ceremonie, instills with a credible level of gravitas, portraying a woman dedicated to her metier but uncomfortable when she’s not busy on the factory floor.

Gritty and affecting, if a tad too sentimental in its third act, this topical drama will likely find takers on the international art-house circuit following its world premiere as a Special Presentation in Toronto. A French release is slated for early November.  

Wind marks actor-turned-director Morel’s first outing since 2011’s underwhelming Our Paradise, and he shows a level of maturity here that was missing from his more stylistically daring works of the past. Smoothly paced and well-acted, even if it tends to wear its heart on its sleeve, his film offers up both a moving take on a mid-life crisis and a compelling vision of what it’s like to live on the other side of the Mediterranean, where cheap labor is easy to come by but decent jobs are hard to keep.

Bonnaire stars as Edith, a quality control inspector working in a textile manufacture that’s on the verge of shutting down. Unlike many of her unionized colleagues who have gone on strike to try and prevent the inevitable, Edith prefers to keep her head down and simply give her very best to the firm. When they offer her the chance to either receive a fair severance package or to continue working in Tangiers, she opts for the latter — much to the surprise of both management and her fellow laborers.

We’re mostly kept in the dark about Edith’s reasoning and learn little about her past, except that her husband died some time ago and her son, Jeremy (Ilian Bergala), doesn’t want much to do with her. When she pays him a surprise visit in Paris to announce her plans to move overseas, she finds out that he married his gay partner and didn’t even bother to invite her to the wedding. Caught off-guard by the news, and offended that her son takes her for the homophobe that she isn’t, Edith relocates abroad with little to hold on to back home.

The scenes of her arriving in Morocco and trying to accustom to a new life and a new workplace are among the film’s strongest. She winds up at a pension house run by a frosty divorcee, Mina (Mouna Fettou), and her affable teenage son, Ali (Kamal El Amri), setting up in a small room that’s a far cry from her picturesque house in France. And when she starts work, she has a hard time making the basic commute to the factory, only to arrive and find that she’s been demoted from inspector to simple seamstress, laboring in front of a sewing machine all day long.

Written by Morel, Rachid O. and Yasmine Louati, the script offers up a realistic glimpse of life in Tangiers as seen through the eyes of a woman from the West. At the factory, workers have little recourse against management, while others steal fabric to compensate for the low pay. Edith tries to play things straight, but is forced to complain about the faulty equipment, which puts her at odds with her fellow employees. It’s far from her ideal vision of Morocco, whatever that was, and when things on the job get even more complicated, Edith’s life takes a turn for the worse.

There are not many French actresses who could portray Edith like Bonnaire does, and you can feel the physical toll of her labors in the way she drags herself on a crowded bus to work, painfully sits at her machine all day long and then drags herself back home to lie alone in her room. This isn't a fancy Parisian roughing it up in the third world, but a worker trying to find a decent life for herself abroad, rather than sitting idly by in France. It’s a naive plan for sure, but Morel makes Edith’s plight believable and ultimately, an act of resistance for a woman who's been given few other choices.

If most of the film convinces with its rather subdued drama, things take a turn for the sappy in the closing reel, and it’s unfortunate that Morel didn’t opt for a less movie-like denouement. At the same time, Edith has been (quite literally) dragged through the mud enough by then, and perhaps deserves a better chance — or at least the possibility of making a few human connections, which is something she sorely lacks. In the end, and with a little from some friends, she might just find her true calling far from home.

Production company: TS Productions
Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Mouna Fettou, Kamal El Amri, Ilian Bergala, Farida Ouchani, Lubna Azabal
Director: Gael Morel
Screenwriters: Gael Morel, Rachid O., Yasmine Louati
Producer: Anthony Doncque, Milena Poylo, Gilles Sacuto
Director of photography: David Chambille
Production designers: Sophie Chandoutis, Helena Goncalves
Editor: Catherine Schwartz
Composer: Camille Rocailleux
Casting director: Jacques Grant
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentations)
Sales: Doc & Film International

In French, Arabic
103 minutes

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