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CANNES — French self-taught director Djinn Carrenard impressively avoids the sophomore slump with FLA, his long-awaited follow-up to his much-lauded first feature, Donoma.
Donoma won the Louis Delluc Prize for best debut even though it was produced outside of the French financing system. It premiered in the 2010 Cannes ACID section, and FLA, which stands for “faire l’amour” (“making love”), is now in Cannes as the Critics’ Week opener. Made with money from several official sources, though — somewhat amazingly — without much of a professional crew, this love story involving a deaf rapper, his pregnant girlfriend and the latter’s jailbird sister, should have a good shot at penetrating French arthouses and could even score some theatrical action offshore despite a nearly three-hour running time.
Laure (Laurette Lalande) is a stewardess, though audiences first meet her in a hospital bed, as she’s getting ready for an abortion. The child’s father is Oussmane (French-Congolese rapper Azu, aka Despo Rutti), a rap artist who’s just signed a contract for a first album and who uses his lyrics to convince her to keep the baby.
The bulk of the film is set in the Mediterranean town of Perpigan, where Laure’s from and moves back to because she doesn’t want to be pregnant in crazy Paris. Oussmane reluctantly follows because he’s afraid of the sea and inexplicably goes deaf during a visit the beach. The hearing aids he subsequently needs make his work as a songwriter-composer much more complicated, which bothers Laure, who also has the feeling her boyfriend sometimes uses his deafness as an excuse to avoid confrontation.
This point is most clearly conveyed in a lengthy, awkward dinner scene at the cramped apartment of Laure’s colleague Jonath (Jean-Baptiste Phou) and his boyfriend (Jeremie Dethelot), which, like a few equally prolonged scenes of tension and fighting later on, evoke the work of Abdellatif Kechiche (Games of Love and Chance, Blue Is the Warmest Color) in their insistence on letting arguments play out in real time and with plenty of very realistic overlap and repetition, rather than the usual, more sanitized forms of shouted dialog. Like Kechiche’s work, the results are both life-like and appropriately exhausting.
Laure’s sister, Kahina (Maha), is introduced about 50 minutes in. She’s been allowed out of jail for a week so she can visit her infant son in Paris, though she also manages to find the time to sleep with Oussmane in Perpignan, fueling more drama and heated conversations that really start to drag around the two-hour mark, with little added in terms of character or story to warrant the ballooning running time. As in Donoma, the film’s unifying theme is how the characters deal with different forms of love and the again, the acting is naturalistic, with the three protagonists charismatic and believable.
Though Perpignan’s over 500 miles south of Paris, people seem to go back and forth easily. Together with Oussmane’s sudden deafness; a scene in Haiti and an English-language sequence with a cameo for U.S. poet-actor-musician Saul Williams, they infuse the realistic film with unexpected poetic touches. The camerawork, shot by the director and art director Salome Blechmans, consists of countless very short shots, from various angles and with arty focus and different types of color correction, and similarly tries to find beauty in everyday life, though especially the countless mechanically vignetted shots wear out there welcome quickly.
In Cannes Film Festival (Critics’ Week — opener)
Production companies: Donoma Guerilla, Arte France Cinema, Commune Image Media, Francois Caldero, Realitism Films
Cast: Maha, Laurette Lalande, Azu, Saul Williams, Laure Kpegli, Axel Philipon, Amelie Moy, Jeremie Dethelot, Jean-Baptiste Phou
Writer-Director: Djinn Carrenard
Producers: Djinn Carrenard, Salome Blechmans
Directors of photography: Djinn Carrenard, Salome Blechmans
Art director: Salome Blechmans
Music: Frank Villabella
Costume designer: Aurore Nallet
Editor: Djinn Carrenard
Sales: Elle Driver
No rating, 168 minutes.
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