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Somewhere between mumblecore, Cassavettes and Abdellatif Kechiche lies Donoma, the promising debut feature from one-man-band auteur Djinn Carrenard. Shot with a purported budget of €150, and co-distributed by the director himself, this small but expansive network narrative follows the amorous entanglements of various young Parisians – many of non-French origin – as they cope with issues of class, religion and identity in the less-traveled byways of the City of Light. While Donoma is too unwieldy to find major distribution outside Gaul, it marks the arrival of a young filmmaker whose talent and energy are forces to be reckoned with.
Following in the footsteps of cineastes like Kechiche (The Secret of the Grain) and Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche (Dernier Maquis), the 30-year-old, Haitian-born Carrenard offers up yet another example of how the newest nouvelle vague in French cinema isn’t necessarily being hatched in the stuffy cafes of the Latin Quarter, but out of the melting pots of Northeast Paris and the banlieue.
And, if Donoma’s guerilla-style production is any proof, it’s not necessarily coming from the approval committees of France’s many public funding outfits, but out of a DIY movement where low-grade HD and Final Cut Pro are the weapons of choice. (That said, the film was sold upon completion to the French-German channel Arte, and received support from the Cannes indie sidebar program, L’ACID.)
Set almost exclusively in a series of bedrooms, stairwells, subway cars and side streets, Donoma tracks the conflict-ridden relations of a handful of teens and 20-somethings, jumping back and forth between plot strands, and using structural leaps to show how each character is ultimately connected. The major trysts involve two stories of three-way amour fou, one involving a Spanish teacher, Analia (Emilia Derou-Bernal), her defiant student, Dacio (Vincent Perez), and his g.f., Salma (Salome Blechmans); the other involving a handsome but feckless couch potato, Dama (Sekouba Doucoure), caught between two photographers – the successful and cosmopolitan Leelop (Laetitia Lopez), and the solitary Ghanese immigrant, Chris (Laura Kpegli).
Shifting between bouts of hilarity and tragedy, the film is built upon a series of lengthy, semi-improvised performances from a cast of actors who are all making their big screen debut, and come across as both intense and entirely natural. They often speak in verlan, or inner-city Gallic slang, but never to the point that Donoma feels like a parody of urban youth. (Given how difficult such a language can be to follow, the movie was subtitled in French for local distribution.) As the stories progress, the many conversations, têtes-à-têtes and shouting matches reveal how relationships must forever stand the test of each lover’s personal baggage – which, in today’s multicultural Paris, is one highly marked by both ethnic origin and the social divide.
Thus, the teacher-student clash between Analia and Dacio starts off as your everyday classroom squabble, but eventually builds into a much darker (and quite funny) tale of sexual frustration, subordination and loneliness. Meanwhile, Dama’s affairs with Leelop and Chris are shown to be complicated by his financial dependence, as well as by his hang-ups about race (“Despite appearances, we’re not the same,” he tells Leelop, who’s also black). Out of all the storylines, the one involving Salma, who claims to be experiencing religious visions, is perhaps the least credible, and winds up closing out a movie that could easily lose a reel or two of its 140-minute running time.
Although production values are sometimes a bit loose (the grainy HD imagery occasionally shifts out of focus), Carrenard attempts a few welcome stylistic flourishes, such as inserting a matte box in front of the lens to give the video an abstract, photo-like quality. Sound (recorded by the director himself) is surprisingly clean for a low-budget production, while the dreamy music of Frank Villabella takes the film out of its realistic realm and into a world of ever-shifting emotional states.
Opens: In France (November 23)
Production companies: Donoma Guerilla
Cast: Emilia Derou-Bernal, Laura Kpegli, Salome Blechmans, Sekouba Doucoure, Vincente Perez, Matthieu Longatte, Delphine II,Laetitia Lopez, Marine Judeaux
Director, screenwriter: Djinn Carrenard
Producers: Djinn Carrenard, Francois Margolin
Director of photography: Djinn Carrenard
Music: Frank Villabella
Costume designer: Martine RapinEditor: Djinn Carrenard
Sales Agent: Donoma Guerilla
No rating, 140 minutes
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