If You Die, I'll Kill You: Hong Kong Film Festival Review

A Frenchman tangles with Kurdish expats in an offbeat black comedy that keeps shifting to drama.

Writer-director Hiner Saleem's comedy is about a Frenchman caught between a dead Kurdish pal and his passel of grieving relatives and acquaintances.

A sweet, offbeat black comedy that never finds its focus, or maybe just hasn’t got much to say, If You Die, I’ll Kill You spins around a nice young Frenchman caught between a dead Kurdish pal and his passel of grieving relatives and acquaintances. Writer-director Hiner Saleem, whose Vodka Lemon poignantly described life in a small Armenian town, views Paris through an immigrant’s eyes and succeeds in catching the feeling of being an outsider in a foreign place. But apart from the luminous presence of Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, there’s not enough to look at here, and even festival fans (it already has played at several) might find time dragging.

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It’s hard to believe that meek, tousle-haired Philippe (Jonathan Zaccai) has just got out of prison, and the fact is never mentioned again. He briefly befriends Avdal (Billey Demirtas), a handsome, mysterious Mideasterner who confides he’s on a mission to assassinate an Iraqi traitor. So far, he’s been unable to locate his victim. To help him earn some petty cash in the meantime, Philippe suggests he work as a gigolo. But minutes before his first rendezvous, Billey dies of a heart attack.

Philippe is too good-natured to walk away from the body, even if he barely knew the fellow, and he starts calling relatives back in Kurdistan to give them the bad news. He doesn’t realize Avdal’s fiancee Siba (Farahani) is already on her way to Paris.

Groping its way through various registers, the film seems unable to pull off a straight black comedy; even if the material seems to be there, the laughs are not. Saleem doesn’t appear to trust comedy to convey serious ideas -- for example, women’s subordination to men in fundamentalist Islam -- so continually switches back to drama and breaks the flow.

The cast is pretty charming, however, and brightened by cameos from Jane Birkin and Maurice Benichou. Mylene Demongeot, seen in Saleem’s Beneath the Rooftops of Paris, has a nice supporting role as Philippe’s older landlady and sometimes lover. More awkward than amusing are a band of clownish Kurdish expats led by stand-up comic Ozz Nujen, who all have the hots for Siba. Farahani’s wistful sophistication outclasses them all; overhearing the gents argue over who will marry the beautiful, defenseless Kurdish virgin, she throws open the door and demands, “Who says I’m a virgin?”

Venue: Hong Kong Film Festival (Global Vision section)
Production companies: MACT Productions
Cast: Golshifteh Farahani, Jonathan Zaccai, Mylene Demongeot, Billey Demirtas, Ozz Nujen, Menderes Samancilar
Director-screenwriter: Hiner Saleem
Producer: Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre  
Director of photography: Manuel Teran
Editor: Emmanuelle Mimran
Sales Agent: Roissy Films
No rating, 95 minutes.

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