French stand-up star Kheiron turns the camera on his own inspiring origins in All Three of Us (Nous trois ou rien), a cleverly handled family dramedy that traces the actor-director’s roots from the dog days of the Iranian dictatorship to the dicey suburbs of Paris. Stronger in its harrowing, and sometimes hilarious, first part than in its rather undramatic conclusion, this impressive first feature nonetheless highlights the talents of a comedian who’s not afraid to look danger in the face and laugh about it. With Gaumont releasing on home turf, the film should see a decent turnout on big and small screens, with festival play a more likely possibility abroad.
Born in Iran and raised in France, Kheiron (last name: Tabib) – known locally through a series of one-man shows and TV appearances – tells the story of his father, Hibat (played by the director), and mother, Fereshteh (Leila Bekhti from A Prophet), two lovebirds forced to flee their homeland after the tumultuous events of the Iranian Revolution, eventually settling in the rough Paris banlieue of Pierrefitte-sur-Seine.
The film kicks off by revealing how the humbly raised Hibat grew into a fervent opposer of the Shah (French comic Alexandre Astier), joining a Communist resistance that would land him in prison for over seven years. After lengthy periods of torture and solitary confinement, Hibat was finally released around the time of the 1979 uprising. He soon fell in love with the headstrong nurse Fereshteh, but their honeymoon was cut short by the rise of an Islamist dictatorship under the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Despite the traumatic events unfolding, Kheiron manages to infuse these early sequences with plenty of humor, depicting Hibat and his merry dissenters as a quick-witted gang willing to risk their lives in the name of freedom. There are arrests, deaths and, eventually, a clandestine crossing through the mountains into Turkey, yet the film never grows overtly heavy, finding ways to land jokes during some fairly tough moments. And unlike many French farces, where the emphasis is often on nonstop banter or slapstick gags, All Three of Us plays out like a situational comedy a l’americaine, with Kheiron mining his parents’ story for laughs without betraying their rebellious spirit.
When the couple finally makes safely to France, they continue to be active in anti-Khomeini protests. After years of study and hard work, they land community service jobs in the mixed-race neighborhood where they settle north of Paris. Although intriguing on a personal level, these events lack the narrative force of the film’s first half, even if Kheiron offers some astute observations about the multicultural melting pot where he grew up – a place where ethnicities and crime often collided. But a way too gushy conclusion feels more like a love letter to mommy and daddy than a suitable finale, while archive photos in the closing credits underline how this was all a true story.
Tech credits are above par for a French comedy, with DP Jean-Francois Hensgens (Our Children) avoiding your typically overlit medium shots and making the most of the breathtaking Iranian locations (which were actually lensed in Morocco). Soundtrack includes the opening movement from Phillip Glass’s Glassworks, used in a rather artfully crafted montage where Kheiron’s own birth is cross-cut with the deadly affairs that would oblige his parents to abandon their country for good.
Production companies: Adama Pictures, Gaumont, M6
Cast: Kheiron, Leila Bekhti, Gerard Darmon, Zabou Breitman, Alexandre Astier
Director, screenwriter: Kheiron
Director of photography: Jean-Francois Hensgens
Production designer: Stanislas Reydellet
Costume designer: Karen Muller-Serreau
Editor: Anny Danche
Casting director: Richard Rousseau
Sales agent: Gaumont
No rating, 102 minutes