Age of Panic (La Bataille de Solferino): Cannes Review

Age of Panic Cannes Film Still - H 2013

Age of Panic Cannes Film Still - H 2013

French indie dramedy banks off its intensely improvised performances.

Vincent Macaigne and Laetitia Dosch headline filmmaker Justine Triet's debut feature, which premiered in the Cannes ACID selection.

CANNES -- Public and private lives clash together and create a decent amount of laughs, in the shot-on-the-fly French indie dramedy Age of Panic (La Bataille de Solferino). After making a couple of well-regarded shorts, writer-director Justine Triet turns her camera on a thirty-something ex-couple whose personal squabbles collide with the 2012 election of Francois Hollande, resulting in a scrappy, funny, though somewhat tenuous feature debut that should see further fest and Francophone bookings.

Premiering in the Cannes ACID program -- an independent sidebar that’s been going on for two decades, but has only recently started subtitling films in English -- the film was produced by Emmanuel Chaumet’s Ecce Films outfit, which has another low-budget feature (The Rendezvous of Dejavu) playing in the Directors’ Fortnight. And while the two movies are different in many ways, they share a similar off-the-cuff, semi-improvised feel, with well-heeled performances from a cast of virtual unknowns -- in particular budding French actor Vincent Macaigne.

Taking place on May 6 of last year, the day when Socialist candidate Hollande ousted right-wing incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy from the Elysees Palace, the story begins with young mother, Laetitia (Laetitia Dosch), handing her kids off to a milquetoast babysitter (the hilariously understated Marc-Antoine Vaugeois) as she heads out to cover the election for national news channel i-Tele. Meanwhile, former boyfriend and deadbeat dad, Vincent (Macaigne), is hoping to pay a visit to his daughters, even if Laetitia has instructed the sitter to keep him out at all costs.

Things quickly escalate when Laetitia begins live coverage in front of the mobbed Socialist Party headquarters on the Rue Solferino, only to learn that Vincent has finagled his way into her apartment, bearing gifts and bad vibes. Soon enough, the sitter, the kids and Vincent all wind up caught in the chaotic election crowd as the results come in and hell breaks loose, resulting in a nasty battle that starts in the streets until eventually finding its way chez Laetitia, where the two parents verbally (and sometimes physically) duke it out into the wee hours of the night.

With several scenes filmed on location during the actual Election Day events, Age of Panic mixes documentary-style drama with scenes of Mumblecore-esque comedy in ways that are often compelling and occasionally quite funny. Triet definitely has a knack for creating uncomfortable situations that go from bad to awful, only to suddenly lighten up in the interim, and although she can’t quite sustain things for feature length, the film’s smart setup and ambitious shooting tactics make for a highly watchable affair.

More technically polished than her Cesar-nominated 2011 short, Vilaine Fille Mauvais Garcon -- which also featured the talented Dosch -- the various street sequences, often covered with multiple cameras, benefit from DP Tom Harari’s skilled framing and are sufficiently woven together by editor Damien Maestraggi.

But the movie works best when it allows the raw performances to take over, with Macaigne clearly the standout here. Although he’s only done a handful of features, the Conservatoire-trained actor has the gravitas, humor and a bit of the physique of a young Paul Giamatti, and we should be hearing much more from him in the years to come.

Production companies: Ecce Films

Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Vincent Macaigne, Arthur Harari, Virgil Vernier, Marc-Antoine Vaugeois

Director, screenwriter: Justine Triet

Producer: Emmanuel Chaumet

Director of photography: Tom Harari

Editor: Damien Maestraggi

Sales Agent: Ecce Films

No rating, 91 minutes