'Insecure (Qui Vive)': Cannes Review

Insecure Film Still - H 2014
La Vie Est Belle Films

Insecure Film Still - H 2014

A low-key, rather generic thriller salvaged by a strong message and solid lead performance.

Reda Kateb (“Zero Dark Thirty”) stars opposite Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Color”) in this debut from former cinematographer Marianne Tardieu.

CANNES -- A down-on-his-luck security guard gets in way too deep with a local gangsta in the socially minded thriller, Insecure (Qui Vive), which marks the feature debut of cinematographer turned director Marianne Tardieu (Rue des cites). Starring the talented Reda Kateb (Zero Dark Thirty, Lost River) as a man with a dead end job that gets even deadlier when he makes an ill-advised move to save his career, the film is never quite convincing as a straight out suspense flick, though Kateb’s endearing portrayal of a working-class washout manages to outshine some of the plot’s more questionable turns.

Premiering in the Cannes ACID section -- an ultra-indie sidebar whose profile has grown in recent years, showcasing movies like Justine Triet’s Age of Panic, Ramon Zurcher’s The Strange Little Cat and Matt Porterfield’s Putty Hill -- this well-intentioned but never quite satisfying crime drama should garner some attention outside France, especially with Blue is the Warmest Color star Adele Exarchopoulos making her first screen appearance since winning the Palme d’Or last year.

In a gritty suburb outside the western French city of Rennes, 30-something Cherif (Kateb) works as a part-time watchman at a strip mall electronics store. While the job basically requires that he stand at the door and check people’s bags, it becomes increasingly problematic when a band of teenage hoods begins harassing him in front of other customers, causing his ball-busting boss (Serge Renko) to get severely on his case.

When Cherif’s not spying on shoplifters, he hangs around with his friends from the projects, or else studies for a nursing exam that he’s already failed several times. However, two encounters will soon turn his humdrum life upside-down, though not necessarily the right side up: First, he meets schoolteacher Jenny (Exarchopoulos), whose artsy personality seems like a nice remedy for Cherif’s banal existence. And then he crosses paths with old pal, Dedah (Rashid Debbouze), a local kingpin who would love to bring his neighborhood buddy under his wing.

Setting up the narrative in a fairly classic manner that lacks panache, Tardieu and co-writer Nadine Lamari (The Ordinary People) seem to be going by the rulebook as Cherif is soon obliged to call on Dedah to handle the thugs outside his store, which of course means that the lowly guard will be indebted to his felonious friend. As a major turning point, it also seems strange that a grown man would put his entire future in jeopardy because of a few annoying -- albeit rather cagey -- teenagers.

The filmmakers are more persuasive in their realistic depiction of France’s underclass of low-wage workers -- many of them, like Cherif, hailing from immigrant origins -- who need to beat plenty of odds so they can earn themselves a decent place in society. The scene where Cherif passes a tense oral exam to enter nursing school is particularly memorable in this regard, as is a late sequence where the catering staff of a fancy chateau party celebrates with the leftovers once the guests take off.

It’s such down-to-earth moments that make up for all the boilerplate plot mechanics, with Kateb’s performance going a long way to render Cherif a credible, and quite touching, character -- the kind of guy you want to root for, even if he doesn't seem to know what to root for himself. As for Exarchopoulos, she convincingly plays the same type of dedicated teacher character from the last act of Blue, although Jenny is really only in the film for a few scenes and disappears without much fanfare.

Tech credits are decent, with DP Jordane Chouzenoux (who also shot the ACID film Mercuriales) tying together multiple locations from the regions of Brittany and Pays de la Loire. Music by electro composer Sayem adds weight to certain routine sequences, such as Cherif’s long bus ride from the banlieue to his inglorious place of work.

Production companies: La Vie Est Belle Films, Oriflamme Films

Cast: Reda Kateb, Adele Exarchopoulos, Rashid Debbouze, Serge Renko

Director: Marianne Tardieu

Screenwriters: Nadine Lamari, Marianne Tardieu

Producer: Celine Maugis, Christophe Delsaux

Director of photography: Jordane Chouzenoux

Production designer: Tiphaine Hervo

Costume designer: Charlotte Lebourgeois

Editor: Thomas Marchand

Music: Sayem

Sales agent: Urban Distribution International

No rating, 83 minutes