The Snows of Kilimanjaro: Cannes Review

Marseilles chronicler Guedigian serves up another socially-minded pastis

This socialist-friendly film examines the dilemma a former union rep faces when he is robbed by an ex-coworker in a similarly dire situation.

Although it shares a title with Hemingway’s short story, and fetish actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin sports a scraggly beard, there’s no doubt that The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Les Neiges du Kilimanjaro) is a Robert Guediguian movie, from its Marseilles setting to its socially conscious scenario to its simple and old fashioned mise-en-scene. This very Pagnol-esque moral tale about an aging couple dealing with the aftereffects of a robbery will appeal mostly to the auteur’s reliable arthouse followers, who, like the film’s main characters, are getting on in years.

“We’re bourgeois,” claims recently retired dockworker Michel (Darroussin) to his wife, Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride), and anyone familiar with Guediguian’s left-leaning cinema knows this is not necessarily a compliment. A former union rep who included himself in a lottery of managerial layoffs, Michel has plenty of time on his hands, some of which he spends taking care of his grandchildren, the rest of which he bemoans his cushy lifestyle while longing for the camaraderie of Marseilles’ ports.

But things quickly change when Michel and Marie-Claire are held up at home by unidentified gunmen, who steal the cash and plane tickets they received for a wedding anniversary trip to Tanzania. When Michel haphazardly discovers that one of the robbers, Christophe (Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet), is a young worker who was laid off with him, he and Marie-Claire must decide whether arresting the unemployed Christophe is the right thing to do, especially when they learn that he supports two abandoned younger brothers (Yann Loubatiere, Jean-Baptiste Fonck).

While the screenplay (co-written with Jean-Louis Milesi) was actually inspired by a Victor Hugo poem, the themes in Hemingway’s tale of regret and self-loathing are expressed in the dilemma Michel faces, forcing him to question whether he earned his comforts through collective compromise and the abandonment of socialist ideals. And though like in any Guediguian flick (Marius and Jeannette and The Town is Quiet, to name a few), there are moments that veer towards preachiness, the narrative actually works through some tough issues, even if the outcome suggests a certain loosening in the director’s political stance.

In terms of style, there is definitely nothing anarchistic about this very classically made movie, whose workable imagery and rather lightweight musical choices (Joe Cocker’s “Many Rivers to Cross” serves as a sort of theme song) could easily place Snows somewhere in the 1980s, and possibly on the Lifetime network. This, along with straightforward and sometimes slow-moving performances by regulars Ascaride and Darroussin – the latter who recites his lines at a snail’s pace, as if to better captivate an audience of seniors – manage to dilute the effectiveness a film that is otherwise sincere in its intentions.

Section: Official Selection (Un Certain Regard)
Sales: Films Distribution
Production companies: AGAT Films & Cie, France 3 Cinema
Cast: Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gerard Meylan, Maryline Canto, Gregoir Leprince-Ringuet, Anais Demoustier, Adrien Jolivet, Robinson Stevenin, Karole Rocher, Julie-Marie Parmentier
Director: Robert Guediguian
Screenwriters: Jean-Louis Milesi, Robert Guediguian, inspired by Victor Hugo’s poem “Les Pauvres gens”
Director of photography: Pierre Milon
Production designer: Michel Vandestien
Costume designer: Juliette Chanaud
Editor: Bernard Sasia
No rating, 107 minutes