Hand in Hand (Main dans la main): Rome Review

Hand in Hand Film Still - H 2012

Hand in Hand Film Still - H 2012

Vibrant and inventive French love story dances its way into a corner that it never quite escapes from.

New dramedy from "Declaration of War" director Valérie Donzelli stars Valérie Lemercier and Jérémie Elkaïm.

ROME -- Adding another eclectic opus to her highly inventive and personal oeuvre, writer-director-actress and now, dancer Valérie Donzelli offers up a lively though ultimately uneven musical dramedy with her third feature, Hand in Hand (Main dans la main).

Starting off on a high note with a spirited mélange of modern dance and surrealistic storytelling, but eventually settling down into a more conventional two hander that lacks a veritable denouement, this contemporary fairy tale-cum-love affair never packs the emotional punch of the filmmaker’s Declaration of War, and as a result should see less buzz and business all around. Still, this Rome competition entry proves that Donzelli can continue to think out of the box and tackle tricky subjects with humor, wit and a certain brand of ingenuity.

A whiplash opening introduces us to a handful of characters, cutting frantically between them to the racing pop tunes of OMD’s early single, “Electricity.” On one side of the story, there’s skater/craftsman, Joakim (Jérémie Elkaïm) and his sister, postal worker/amateur dancer, Véro (Donzelli), who live together with Véro’s husband (Sébastien Noiré) and kids in the quiet country town of Commercy. And on the other side there’s Hélène Marchal (Valérie Lermericer), head instructor at the notorious Ecole de Danse of the Paris Opéra, and her best friend Constance (Béatrice de Staël), who spends every waking moment with Hélène, up to and including sleeping in the same bed.

While the two leading ladies have very different lives, they share a similar love of dance, Hélène professionally and Véro as a contestant in an upcoming competition in Monaco. But the real common denominator is Joakim, who encounters Hélène while on a work visit to the opera, causing sparks to fly in more ways than one: Not only are the two obviously attracted to one another, but a quick kiss results in an unexplainable phenomenon whereby—like dancers practicing the same routine—they can’t stop mimicking each other’s movements.

It takes a certain leap of faith to swallow this narrative turn, but Donzelli creates such an unusual atmosphere from the get-go that what happens to the couple comes more or less with the territory. The strange circumstances also allow the director and choreographer Fabrice Ramalingom to dish out a series of cleverly staged, slapstick performance pieces, using contemporary dance numbers to tell the tale of two would-be lovers who are always in step but can never quite meet one another eye to eye.

While Hand In Hand maintains its lively pace for a good thirty minutes or so, the energy nonetheless dies down around the film’s midpoint and never quite comes back. Instead, there’s much speculating as to why Hélène and Joakim are magically joined at the hip (“suppressed love-at-first-sight” is one theory), and much griping about how the bizarre romance affects their respective relationships with Constance (who we learn suffers from a fatal illness) and Véro (who has a hard time letting go of her brother). Yet as the characters never feel fully rounded out, it’s harder to take these late dramatic turns to heart, while a hasty and unjustified climax never provides the sensational finale when would hope for here.

Even if Donzelli fails to fulfill the promise of her film’s thrilling early sequences, she manages to deliver plenty of energy and visual surprises, whether in scenes of Jérémie skateboarding down a steep country road or through the streets of Paris, or during a ritzy party that quickly escalates into a drunken food fight. Regular cinematographer Sébastien Buchmann captures such moments in colorfully lit compositions (some of them filmed on Super 8) that make excellent use of the real-life locations, including several scenes shot inside the majestic Palais Garnier opera house.

Performances are punchy, even acrobatic at times, and the cast is so skillful on the dance floor that it’s unfortunate they hang up their shoes way before the show is over.

Production companies: Rectangle Productions, Wild Bunch, France 3 Cinéma, Scope Pictures

Cast: Valérie Lemercier, Jérémie Elkaïm, Béatrice de Staël, Valérie Donzelli, Sébastien Noiré

Director: Valérie Donzelli

Screenwriter: Valérie Donzelli, in collaboration with Jérémie Elkaïm and Gilles Marchand

Producer: Edouard Weil

Director of photography: Sébastien Buchmann

Production designer: Gaëlle Usandivaras

Music: Peter Von Poehl

Costume designers: Elisabeth Méhu, Vanessa Seward

Editor: Pauline Gaillard

Choreography: Fabrice Ramalingom

Sales: Wild Bunch

No rating, 84 minutes