'Cerise': Film Review

Courtesy of Gaumont
Down and out in Kiev

Zoé Adjani, the niece of French acting goddess Isabelle Adjani, headlines this French teen romp from director Jerome Enrico

A 14-year-old French girl with pink hair who’s obsessed with celebrity gossip, leopard-print purses and her smartphone is sent to stay with her dad in Ukraine, where a revolution is rumbling on the horizon, in Jerome Enrico’s third feature, Cerise. The premise suggests a typical fish-out-of-water comedy template, much like Enrico’s 2013 surprise hit Paulette, in which a granny sold drugs to supplement her meager pension. But lighting doesn’t exactly strike twice, and more often than not the film struggles to find the right tone for its mixture of socio-political background and teen protagonist. That said, Zoé Adjani, the 16-year-old newcomer in the title role and niece of French acting royalty Isabelle Adjani, at least suggests that star quality is something that runs in the family.

An out-of-control teenager, Cerise (Adjani) might be all of 14 but with her fluorescent pink locks and combo of tight T-shirts, leather jackets and obscenely high heels, she could easily pass for someone a lot older. Taking the concept of laissez-faire several steps too far, she doesn’t allow anyone to meddle in her affairs, which finally makes her exasperated mother (Olivia Cote, in a broadly played but solid cameo) decide to send her to live with her French émigré butcher dad (Jonathan Zaccai) in Kiev.

However, Cerise has no recollection of her old man and when she’s waiting to be picked up at the airport in Ukraine, he hits on the beautiful babe first before they realize they’re looking for each other. The screenplay, written by Enrico with his Ukrainian wife, Irina Gontchar, often doesn’t go much further in its attempts at humor, creating situations with some potential but then not developing them sufficiently to either explore the characters’ relationships or bring home more than the easiest laughs.

There are some good ideas here, including the quickly homesick and clearly bored Cerise’s obsession with (fictional) French pop singer Matt Dyser (Pierre Derenne), who happens to look just like a local driver, Kyril (also Derenne), or the initially awkward but nonetheless believable affection that her dad’s ancient cleaning lady, Nina (Bulgarian actress Tania Vuchova), develops for the young’un, despite the fact they have no language in common.

Dyser allows Cerise the possibility to forget about her ugly new reality and daydream about being the object of affection of a swoon-worthy pop star, or at least his Ukrainian lookalike. The unusual resemblance of the two also gives Enrico the opportunity to blend Matt and Kyril together into an often-droll mixture of two mutually exclusive worlds in some music video-like dream sequences. These wink-wink interludes are slickly produced and bring some much-needed pizzazz to the proceedings, even if they are too reliant on Soviet iconography.

Indeed, and somewhat oddly, the film never makes it clear what exactly the differences are between the USSR and current Russia and Ukraine, which is strange not only because at least a part of the teenage target audience will be unaware of the region’s history but also because the recent Ukrainian conflict and the happenings in Kiev’s Maidan take on more prominence in the film’s second half. That second half is therefore left to balance fluorescent pink, leopard prints and first-world adjustment problems with a rather bleak reality in which the film has no interest — except to use it to make Kyril look more virile or in order to set up an elaborate sequence in which the punchline consists of a (cheap, in all senses of the word) shot of Chernobyl.

Stronger writing in Paulette, which was written by the director with three screenwriters, none of whom encored here, made tonal issues scarce but Cerise’s narrative often self-consciously totters on as if it were in high heels itself, and not used to wearing them.

Adjani, in practically every scene, at least provides enough charisma to keep audiences interested in a character that’s essentially a whiny brat, and Zaccai manages to do something similar as her father, a character who’s not at risk of even winning a consolation prize in the parenting sweepstakes. Adjani also has good chemistry with both Derenne and Vuchova, the former sporting a credible accent as Kyril and the right dance moves as Matt and Vuchova convincingly dubbed from Bulgarian into Russian.

Shot mostly in Bulgaria while the actual Ukrainian crisis went down, with the screenplay reportedly changed to include new elements, the film looks decent, with Dorothee Lissac’s costumes the standout craft contribution.

Production companies: Legende, Gaumont

Cast: Zoe Adjani, Jonathan Zaccai, Tania Vuchova, Pierre Derenne, Olivia Cote, Mykola Mateshko, Emilia Radeva, Yavor Ralinov

Director: Jerome Enrico

Screenplay: Irina Gontchar, Jerome Enrico

Producer: Ilan Goldman

Director of photography: Bruno Privat

Production designer: Jeremie Sfez

Costume designer: Dorothee Lissac

Editor: Antoine Vareille

Music: Michel Ochowiak, Marc Chouarain

Casting: Coralie Amedeo

Sales: Gaumont

 

No rating, 90 minutes

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