Pirate TV (Télé Gaucho): Film Review

Lively French dramedy is both intriguing and a bit gauche.

Sara Forestier, Emmanuelle Béart and Maïwenn co-star in Michel Leclerc's Paris-set dramedy.

PARIS -- A budding film buff hoping to be the next Jean-Luc Godard winds up finding his true cinéphile calling on Pirate TV (Télé Gaucho) in this earnest but protracted period comedy from writer-director Michel Leclerc. Offering up the kind of left wing hijinks and freewheeling dramatics that marked the filmmaker’s 2010 Cannes Critics’ Week entry The Names of Love, this portrait of an underground television network’s rocky beginnings is perhaps too Frenchified to see much action outside its local release, where it should earn moderate to fair ratings.

Inspired by Leclerc’s own experiences in the mid-90s as a reporter at the anarchist-style TV channel Télé Bocal, the film follows small-town dreamer, Victor (Félix Moati, LOL) as he moves to Paris for an internship at France’s premier network HT1 (modeled on TF1), but soon finds himself swept up by the motley crew of a fictional station called Télé Gaucho (“gaucho” translates roughly to “lefty”).

Under the command of nutty ringleader, Jean-Lou (Eric Elmosnino, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life) and his hardliner girlfriend, Yasmina (director-actress Maïwenn), Victor quickly puts aside his dreams of winning the Palme d’Or and begins writing/directing his own low-budget sketches, which are aired along with other irreverent content at the group’s trashy headquarters, located in Paris’ left-leaning 20th arrondissement.

During one of his shoots, Victor makes the acquaintance of the volatile beauty, Clara (Sara Forestier, reprising her role in The Names of Love, including the lack of clothes), and the two begin an affair that eventually yields a newborn baby and a host of other problems. Meanwhile, Victor’s internship at a schlock talk show hosted by Patricia Gabriel (an enjoyably bitchy Emmanuelle Béart) starts to put him at odds with the Bolshevik antics of his buddies, forcing him to choose between his artistic ideals and a future that his family can count on.

Less zany in tone and structure than Names, Leclerc’s third feature offers up a few intriguing insights into the history of the Parisian pirate network – a messy and chaotic venture fueled by creative hotheads, punked-out utopians and lots and lots of beer. And while some of the shorts produced by Victor are quite clever (including a series on useless everyday objects), much of the station’s politically-motivated content – whether dealing with AIDS, immigrants or abortion – is on the level of your local cable access channel, and was clearly more fun to make than it was to watch.

Outside its historical interest, Télé Gaucho often plays like a run-of-the-mill group drama where the characters seem to engage in shouting matches every five minutes or so, making its near 2-hour running time slightly unbearable. Even if the actors are all decent and Moati offers up a charming turn as the wet-behind-the-ears filmmaker, the narrative often wanes in the movie's latter sections, especially when it centers on the rocky relationship between Victor and Clara, which never feels believable.

Cinematographer Guillaume Deffontaines (All That Glitters) captures life in Paris’ tough eastern neighborhoods with plenty of color and verve, while the upbeat soundtrack features compositions by both Jérôme Bensoussan and Leclerc himself.

Production companies: 31 Juin Films, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels, UGC, France 2 Cinéma, Rhone Alpes Cinéma, Scope Pictures
Cast: Félix Moati, Eric Elmosnino, Sara Forestier, Maïwenn, Emmanuelle Béart
Director: Michel Leclerc
Screenwriters: Michel Leclerc, Thomas Lilti
Producers: Agnès Vallée, Emmanuel Barraux
Director of photography: Guillaume Deffontaines
Production designer: Stéphane Becimol
Music: Jérôme Bensoussan
Costume designer: Mélanie Gautier
Editor: Annette Dutertre
Sales Agent: TF1 International
No rating, 112 minutes