Headwinds (Des Vents Contraires): Film Review

Pedestrian adaptation of family drama remains grounded.

Audrey Tatou, Boit Magimel and Isabelle Carre co-star in director Jalil Lespert's family drama based on a novel by Olivier Adam.

Can anyone direct a movie? It would seem so, since the ranks of non-directors who have lined up to take a turn behind the camera in recent years now include actors, writers, stage directors and fashion designers. This offering by Jalil Lespert, a youngish thesp with a string of critically successful screen performances to his credit, tests the notion to its limits. Headwinds is a family drama that fails to get airborne. Heartstrings remain unplucked. No tears are jerked. Based on a novel by best-selling author Olivier Adam and boasting star actors of the order of Audrey Tautou, the movie may fly for a while in France but word of mouth is likely to do little for its commerical prospects elsewhere.

Paul (Benoit Magimel), a successful writer, has his world thrown out of kilter when his wife Sarah (Tautou) vanishes without apparent reason and without trace, leaving him with two young children to raise. Cleared of involvement following a police investigation, he decides to move from Paris back to the small coastal town in Brittany where he was brought up to rebuild his life from scratch. He takes a job as an instructor in the driving school run by his older brother Alex (Antoine Dulery) and - the film's basic concept -- through his contacts with other people, learns to pick up the pieces and starts to live again.

His new acquaintances include Justine (Marie-Ange Casta), a flirty 20-year-old with whom he has a brief sexual encounter, Brehel (Bouli Lanners), a sales rep whose life has collapsed following a road accident in which he killed a cyclist, and Samir (Ramzy Bedia), a house-remover. Such drama as the film provides emerges when Samir, unemployed and homeless, abducts the daughter to whom he has been denied visiting rights by his estranged wife, and when the local police chief (Isabelle Carre) reopens the investigation into Sarah's disappearance.

None of these elements interact significantly and the film's purported focus is the healing process that Paul undergoes as he opens up to the people around him. The portrayal of inner turmoil requires more artistry and insight than Lespert can muster to engage the spectator, and Magimel's restrained performance is functional at best.

Scene follows scene, the actors speak their lines, the technicians are faultless and the headwinds blow in from the sea on cue, but the movie remains grounded, weighed down by a screenplay that is frequently clunky and the overall impression of an exercise in directing-by-numbers. Carre and, in a cameo as a widowed house-owner, Aurore Clement, make the most of the material they are given, but Tautou is too briefly on screen to provide much uplift

Opens: Dec. 14
Production companies: Wy Productions, Universal Pictures
Cast: Benoit Magimel, Isabelle Carre, Antoine Dulery, Ramzy Bedia, Bouli Lanners, Marie-Ange Casta, Lubna Azabal, Aurore Clement
Director: Jalil Lespert
Writers: Jalil Lespert, Olivier Adam, Marion Laine, Marie-Pierre Huster, based on the novel by Olivier Adam
Producers: Wassim Beji, Yannick Bollore
Photography: Josee Deshaies
Editors: Monica Coleman
Music: DJ Pone, David Francois Moreau
Sales: PTZ International
No MPAA rating
Running time: 91 minutes