The Wolberg Family -- Film Review

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First-time French director Axelle Ropert has done a marvelous job in creating the central figure of this modest film, Simon Wolberg (powerfully brought to life by actor Francois Damiens), the Jewish mayor of a small town in northern France. Simon is testy and angular and authentic, so much so that he must have been borrowed from Ropert's real life.

He loves his family -- his widowed father, his unhappy wife, his disaffected bohemian younger brother, his restless 18-year-old daughter and his clueless young son -- with a suffocating passion. He is also obsessed with his Jewishness, sometimes in a joking way, and sometimes in a way that reveals his insecurity vis-a-vis the blond hordes that surround him.

Simon is a character rarely seen in the movies, and thus most welcome. Where the film is less successful is in its plotting and writing. For one thing, the script seems originally to have been workshopped in a drama rather a film class. The characters all talk non-stop, endlessly "interacting," but changing little. Ropert's endless two-shots and shot/reaction shot combinations give the impression that the director thinks that cinema may not actually be a visual medium after all. Cliched plot complications like terminal cancer and adultery are tossed into the mix in unconvincing ways, resulting in sometimes uneven character motivation. To add profundity to what is basically a family melodrama, characters are sometimes made to spout philosophical reflections that don't seem to jibe with the film's basic simplicity.

It's certainly a nice little crowd-pleasing film, despite its faults, but commercial prospects, even in France, seem slim.

Director's Fortnight
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