'My Revolution' ('Ma Revolution'): Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
A clever if cursory political fable.

Director Ramzi Ben Sliman premiered his feature debut in Berlin’s Generation section.

A PG-friendly Superbad crosses paths with the Arab Spring in My Revolution (Ma Revolution), first-time director Ramzi Ben Sliman’s cute and clever coming-of-age comedy, which premiered this week in Berlin’s Generation 14plus sidebar.

Following the unlikely ascent of a Parisian teenager from pimple-faced loser to local mascot of the Tunisian Revolution — all of it so he can impress a girl in his class — this whimsical satire has a few great ideas but doesn’t give them a thorough-enough workout. Slated for French release sometime later this year, it could attract minor buzz at home and some interest overseas, especially in Francophone domains.

Marwann (Samuel Vincent) is a 15-year-old junior high school student with Tunisian origins that he’s never seemed to recognize or really care about. Goofing off around northern Paris with his best bud, Felix (Lucien Le Guern), he only has one goal in life: winning the heart of his beautiful classmate, Sygrid (Anamaria Vartolomei), who doesn’t even know that the clumsy, far-from-swarthy Marwann exists.

But our hero’s social status quickly goes sky high when, in late 2010, the Jasmine Revolution breaks out back in Tunisia, where longtime president Ben Ali is ousted by a popular uprising that would be replicated (though not always successfully) throughout parts of the Arab world.

Attending a rally in support of his countrymen, but only really for the fun of it, Marwann has his photo taken by a journalist. The next day it winds up on the cover of left-wing daily Liberation, and Marwann becomes the star of his school, attracting Sygrid’s attention with his so-called revolutionary spirit.

It’s a sly concept that Sliman, along with co-writers Thomas Cailley (Love at First Fight) and Nathalie Saugeon (The Other Son), manage to explore in amusing and enlightening ways, at least initially. Underscoring what separates the Paris-born adolescent from his parents (Lubna Azabal, Samir Guesmi) and immigrant grandfather (Ahmed Benaissa), My Revolution reveals how much the notion of “homeland” changes from one age to another, with each generation defining itself based on personal experience — and often in opposition to its predecessor.

The setup yields some good sequences early on, when Marwann has to pretend he cares — or knows anything — about what’s happening back in Tunisia, repeating what he hears his dad say at dinner, sees on the Internet or reads in the paper (though at least he’s starting to read the paper, the film seems to say). But when his folks catch a whiff of the Jasmine vibe and decide to relocate to their native land, the faux young activist suddenly risks losing his girl and living in a place he has no real ties to.

While the film’s first half offers up a handful of sharp observations and lots of looser teenage hijinks, it never really fulfills its promise in the latter stages, especially when Marwann and his parents move to Tunis. You would think this would be the perfect opportunity to explore the differences between being a Tunisian in Paris vs. being one in the mother country, but Sliman only scratches the surface of such questions, concentrating mostly on the lovelorn woes of his hero as he dallies about overseas.

If the expedited ending is also a bit of a letdown, My Revolution still provides a fun and fresh take on France’s Arab diaspora, and one which has absolutely nothing to do with Islam (we never see the family discussing religion or describing themselves as Muslims). Filled with upbeat, naturalistic performances — first-timer Vincent has an endearing kind of panache — it ultimately works better as a teen flick with sociopolitical undertones than the other way around. The revolution will be Spotified.    

Production companies: Les Productions Balthazar, 10:15! Productions, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Samuel Vincent, Anamaria Vartolomei, Lubna Azabal, Samir Guesmi, Lucien Le Guern
Director: Ramzi Ben Sliman
Screenwriters: Ramzi Ben Sliman, Thomas Cailley, Nathalie Saugeon
Producers: Jerome Dopffer, Sebastien Haguenauer
Director of photography: Dominique Colin
Production designer: Gaelle Usandivaras
Costume designer: Elfie Carlier
Editor: Damien Maestraggi
Composer: Julien Lourau
Casting director: Francois Guignard
Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Generation 14plus)
Sales: Visit Films

In French, Arabic
80 minutes