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A divorced dad literally tries to get his life back on track in Patchwork Family (Du goudron et des plumes), a quirky and rather endearing French dramedy from writer-director Pascal Rabate (Les Petits Ruisseaux). Starring Sami Bouajila as a conniving small-town salesman who decides to participate in a local triathlon, hoping to garner his daughter’s respect in the process, the film feels closer to American indie fare than to your typical Gallic offering, and as such could find some traction abroad (though perhaps with a less generic English-language title). A competition slot in Karlovy Vary may also help boost interest overseas, while a mid-sized local release should land modest numbers.
Like the barely furnished, still-under-renovation house where he lives, Christian (Bouajila) is the kind of guy who starts things but never finishes them. This was the case with his failed marriage to a supportive ex (Stephane Pillonca), an athletic background that went nowhere, and a series of random hookups with women he meets in bars and quickly forgets about the next morning.
Beyond a day job selling pricey anti-termite plans to unsuspecting clients, the only thing Christian has going for him is his precocious tweenage daughter, Vanessa (the excellent Talina Boyaci). Every other weekend, he picks her up at a baton twirling class in their quiet southern city of Montauban, then takes her back to the Jacques Tati-esque development he calls home.
It’s during one such weekend that Christian meets single mom Christine (Isabelle Carre), whose own daughter (Laura Genovino) is Vanessa’s best buddy, and who has a second child on the way. The two quickly hit it off, and the ensuing affair causes Christian to reconsider his womanizing ways. At the same time, he’s recruited by a local track coach (Charles Schneider) to join their triathlon team, and reluctantly accepts after Vanessa urges him to practice what he preaches and finally be a stand-up dad.
Adding eccentricity to a rather classic father-daughter redemption story, Rabate and co-writer Antoine Pinson provide a few fun twists along the way to Christian’s ultimate reckoning, during which his professional and private transgressions come back to bite him in major ways. As dark as things get at times, the tone remains relatively easygoing, with the finale taking place during a lampooned regional track & field event that leaves room for lots of slapstick (including a hilarious short cameo by actor-director Gustave Kervern, In the Courtyard).
Throughout the movie, comic book auteur-turned-filmmaker Rabate shows a flare for creating witty visual compositions and underhanded dark comedy, teaming up with regular DP Benoit Chamaillard to capture a tight-knit community that looks more like American suburbia than provincial France. Indeed, there are times when Patchwork Family resembles an artsier Gallic take on Little Miss Sunshine, mixing mundane oddities (Vanessa baton twirling, Christian on a rowing machine) with a deeper feeling of contemporary malaise, especially in scenes involving Christian’s suicidal brother (the deadpan Zinedine Soualem).
If the result is not always fresh, it’s nonetheless endearing, and Rabate certainly shows compassion for his highly flawed hero, played by the veteran Bouajila in a role that’s far from the melancholic types he’s portrayed in films like Omar Killed Me and Days of Glory. The actor is well matched by the sprightly Carre (Private Fears in Public Places), who’s no stranger to comedy and brings much lightness to the story, just as Christine does to the life of Christian. The young Boyaci — a regular on the popular French sitcom, Nos chers voisins — is impressive as the straight-talking and pragmatic Vanessa, serving as an emotional anchor to a man who’s forever drifting into rough waters.
Production companies: Loin Derriere l’Oural, Belle Epoque Films
Cast: Sami Bouajila, Isabelle Carre, Daniel Prevost, Zinedine Soualem, Talina Boyaci
Director: Pascal Rabate
Screenwriters: Pascal Rabate, Antoine Pinson
Producer: Xavier Delmas
Director of photography: Benoit Chamaillard
Production designer: Angelo Zamparutti
Costume designer: Virginie Alba
Editor: Jean-Francois Elie
Composer: Alain Pewzner
Sales agent: Films Boutique
No rating, 91 minutes
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