'Fool Circle' ('Tristesse Club'): Film Review

FOOL CIRCLE Film Still - H 2014
Kazak Productions

FOOL CIRCLE Film Still - H 2014

A quirky family story with low-key chemistry.

Ludivine Sagnier, Laurent Lafitte and Vincent Macaigne play sort-of siblings in this comedy-drama directed by French rookie director Vincent Mariette

Two adult brothers and a young woman who might be their sister go in search of their supposedly dead father in Fool Circle (Tristesse Club), an occasionally droll and touching but overall rather sedate first feature from French director Vincent Mariette. The film pairs current go-to French Everyman Vincent Macaigne (2 Autumns, 3 Winters, The Rendez-Vous of Deja-Vu) and Comedie Francaise star Laurent Lafitte (The Love Punch, Mood Indigo) with the earthy-sprightly Ludivine Sagnier (The Devil’s Double, Peter Pan), and the trio has a low-key chemistry that’s about on par with the film’s not-exactly-impressive box office numbers in France. French film showcases and an errant festival or two will alleviate the "sadness" of the original title.

Leon (Lafitte), a cocky former tennis star whose wife is sick of him, clearly doesn’t see a lot of his brother, Bruno (Macaigne), who has founded a dating website but otherwise has absolutely no clue about women. When they both get word that their father has died, they make the trek back to the town where they grew up. But instead of finding their dead father at the funeral home, they find a petite blonde (Sagnier), who reveals she’s related to them.

The unlikely trio ends up at their late father’s dilapidated lakeside hotel, where various mini-adventures ensue while they try to locate their old man, some of them involving a mad neighbor (character actor Philippe Rebbot) and their father's manic ex-lover (Noemie Lvovsky, like Rebbot in fine form). But the screenplay, by Mariette and Vincent Poymiro, feels too much like a series of semi-related vignettes rather than a fully constructed story populated by living and breathing people. The three characters are too obviously constructed in their differences from one another to be able to convincingly go from hating and not trusting each other to becoming friends — or possibly more, in a plot twist that can be seen coming from miles away.

That said, Mariette shows promise in the execution of quite a few stand-alone scenes, such as a wonderfully orchestrated nighttime sequence in which the brothers try to steal gasoline from a group of youngsters camping at the lake. The scene is shot through with a specific kind of melancholy — as if both brothers, in their late thirties to early forties, are encountering versions of their younger selves — that’s strangely absent for most of the scenes in which the two actually reclaim their childhood home.

Sagnier’s casting is almost offensive in that her character can best be described as a "Ludivine Sagnier-type girl," and she’s given next to nothing to work with; even Lvovsky, who has just one scene, has more to sink her teeth into. The men are a little better off, but their chemistry remains pretty low-key, as well.

Cinematographer Julien Roux has been instructed to go into Wes Anderson mode in terms of his framing, with symmetrical compositions alternating with odd angles, which infuse the proceedings with a sense of off-kilter vigor even when narrative energy runs low. The appearance and use of odd props, such as a homemade tennis-ball launcher, further up the quirk factor.

Production companies: Kazak Productions, 2L Productions, Rhone-Alpes Cinema

Cast: Ludivine Sagnier, Laurent Lafitte, Vincent Macaigne, Noemie Lvovsky, Dominique Reymond, Anne Azoulay, Philippe Rebbot

Director: Vincent Mariette

Screenwriters: Vincent Mariette, Vincent Poymiro

Producers: Amaury Ovise, Jean-Christophe Reymond

Director of photography: Julien Roux

Production designer: Sidney Dubois

Costume designer: Carole Gerard

Editor: Nicolas Desmaison

Composer: Rob

Sales: Bac Films Distribution

No rating, 90 minutes