‘Les Chateaux de sable’: Film Review

Les Chateaux de sable Still - H 2015
Courtesy of La Belle Company

Les Chateaux de sable Still - H 2015

A well-acted romantic drama that jumps between clichés and creativeness

Emma de Caunes and Yannick Renier star in this very French seaside affair

Beautiful artist + dashing intellectual + country house + sex = new French movie.

We’ve all seen that formula, or different variations of it, dozens of times before. And although writer-director Olivier Jahan’s Les Chateaux de sable (Sand Castles) is far from groundbreaking in that respect, this familiar affair nonetheless offers up a few intriguing twists on the genre while distinguishing itself through strong turns from leads Emma de Caunes (Ma mere) and Yannick Renier (Private Property). A modest home release will be followed by pickups in Francophonia, with possible interest from overseas distributors who handle this kind of heady, sultry French fare.

Jahan hasn’t made a feature since 2000’s Pretend I’m Not Here, in which de Caunes played a small role and Renier’s half-brother, Jeremie (Saint Laurent), was the star. Like that film, which focused on the unlikely threesome created by a teenage voyeur and a couple living next door to him, this one follows a recently separated pair who spend a final weekend together in Brittany, where their relationship is upended by the arrival of an unusual third party: their real estate agent, Claire (Jeanne Rosa).

Written by the director and playwright-filmmaker Diasteme (whose skinhead family chronicle, French Blood, may pop up in Cannes this year), the script takes us through the predictable ups and downs experienced by photographer, Eleonore (de Caunes), as she tries to sell the beloved country home of her dead father (singer Alain Chamfort), embarking her ex-boyfriend, Samuel (Renier), along for the ride. With a few days to purge her daddy issues while fighting, flirting and you-know-what-ing with Samuel, Eleonore finds her life thrown into disarray as memories of the past – seen in rather artful black-and-white photos – come crashing into the present.

There’s nothing new here, except perhaps for the Claire character, who at first appears as your typical ditzy property broker until becoming a major player in the story – especially during an extended sequence where she sings a song by Georges Brassens that moves Eleonore to tears. (Brassens’ track “Les Chateaux de sable” inspired the film’s title.) There’s also a curious, if flawed, attempt by the filmmakers to shift points-of-view among all three characters, while the action is narrated by an unknown voiceover whose origins are only revealed in the closing minutes.

Those ingredients add some spice to what would otherwise be a cookie-cutter affair, while performances by de Caunes and Renier are intense enough to overcome their somewhat clichéd personas – especially Eleonore’s over-extreme attachment to her late father (well-played by Chamfort in a series of often cringe-worthy flashbacks). The crisp widescreen lensing by Fabien Benzaquen makes them all look great, while the stormy seaside settings reflect the characters’ inner turmoil – a familiar effect in a movie that’s definitely formulaic, but finds a few clever ways to arrive at its solution.

Production companies: Kizmar Films, Noodles Production
Cast: Emma de Caunes, Yannick Renier, Jeanne Rosa, Christine Brucher, Alain Chamfort
Director: Olivier Jahan
Screenwriters: Diasteme, Olivier Jahan
Producers: Alexia de Beauvoir, Antoine Morand, Jerome Vidal
Executive producer: Mat Troi Day
Director of photography: Fabien Benzaquen
Production designer: Benoit Pfauwadel
Costume designers: Caroline Tavernier, Charlotte Gillard
Editor: Jean-Baptiste Beaudoin

No rating, 102 minutes