Berlinale Competition

PARIS -- Erick Zonca, the acclaimed director of "The Dreamlife of Angels" and "The Little Thief," spent seven years on this American project, "Julia," an homage to John Cassavetes' "Gloria" as well as a nod to the late director's "The Killing of a Chinese Bookie."

Although directed, written and photographed by French filmmakers, this is an American movie, shot in California and Mexico with American and British actors. The commercial prospects are therefore those of a U.S. indie film. The presence of Tilda Swinton, following her Oscar nomination, could further attract a significant number of viewers. The film opens in France on March 12.

The opening sequences focus on Julia's nightlife: repeated drinking, occasional sex with strangers, quarrels. What starts out as a portrait of an alcoholic suddenly takes a turn with the intrusion of another woman. At an AA meeting, Julia (Swinton) meets Elena (Kate del Castillo), who seeks her help. She claims she has been separated from her son, who lives with his grandfather. She asks Julia to help kidnap the boy and offers to split the ransom from the grandfather, a millionaire.

"Julia" naturally turns into a thriller, full of suspense, which will bring Julia and the boy to the California desert and all the way to Mexico. Getting involved in a kidnapping and having to face Mexican criminals allow Julia to better understand herself. So in 140 minutes, which move faster than many 90-minute movies, Zonca manages to change genres, change styles and make his character evolve.

Visually, the film evokes the American cinema of the 1970s. The immersion in Julia's drunk life is deliberately filmed in a Cassavetes style: short shots, close focal distance, blurred colors, dialogues that seem improvised. The thriller is first a road movie that uses the immensity of the desert as a narrative resource. Then the sequences in Tijuana pivot around the most vehement cliches Americans have on this border town.

As Julia, Swinton belongs to that league of great cinematic alcoholics such as Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in "Days of Wine and Roses" and Ray Milland in "The Lost Weekend." As an action character, she naturally evokes Gena Rowlands without ever trying to resemble her. She doesn't hesitate to show her imperfect body -- some cellulite, a little potbelly. The braveness to take on such an unsexy behavior is not common. Opposite her, in some of the film's most compelling sequences, Saul Rubinek shows again that he is the essence of the supporting actor.

Les Productions Bagheera, Le Bureau, StudioCanal, the 7th Floor, Saga Film
Director: Erick Zonca
Screenwriters: Aude Py, Erick Zonca
Artistic collaborator: Camille Natta
Producers: Francois Marquis, Bertrand Faivre
Co-producers: Allen Bain, Jesse Scolaro, Hubert Toint, Jean-Jacques Neira
Director of photography: Yorick Le Saux
Production designer: Francois-Renaud Labarthe
Costume designer: April Napier
Editor: Philippe Kotlarski
Julia: Tilda Swinton
Mitch: Saul Rubinek
Elena: Kate del Castillo
Tom: Aidan Gould
Nick: Jude Cicolella
Diego: Bruno Bichir
Santos: Horacio Garcia Rojas
Miguel: Gaston Peterson

Running time -- 140 minutes
No MPAA rating