'Stubborn' ('Une Histoire Americaine'): Film Review

Stubborn Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Film Society Lincoln Center

Stubborn Still - H 2015

A headstrong protagonist gets lost in New York, and in translation

Murray Bartlett and Kate Moran join French actor Vincent Macaigne in this micro-budgeted indie set in New York

A French schlemiel travels to the U.S. to re-conquer an ex-girlfriend who has long since moved on in the appropriately if rather bluntly titled Stubborn (Une Histoire Americaine), from French director Armel Hostiou. Though co-written by and starring the current Everyman darling of French indie cinema, Vincent Macaigne (The Rendez-Vous of Deja-Vu, Eden), this was released very quietly in France last month before making a quick appearance at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, where the film was shot. A few more filmweek-type events will be in the cards for this visually unsophisticated and narratively rather rambling feature, which will be more at home on VOD as a talky French curio about unrequited love.

Vincent Macaigne seems to improvise most of his way through the film as Vincent (Macaigne’s sixth character named Vincent in five years), a poor French slob who has come to the city that never sleeps with a single goal: bring back Barbara (Kate Moran), his bilingual ex-girlfriend who has moved back stateside. Barely off the plane, Vincent shows a picture of Barbara on his phone to a DVD-seller on the subway and gets into an awkward English-language conversation with the man about women, making it clear Vince is the kind of person for whom oversharing is an entirely alien concept.

When Vincent finally finds Barbara, she agrees to a waterside stroll so they can have a conversation. Their ambling walk and meandering conversation infuses Stubborn with shades of wannabe Linklater in Before mode, though Hostiou’s weird choice to shoot their dialogue in typical shot/reverse shot closeups is an odd one, as they are walking next to each other instead of facing one another. Though perhaps the director manages to visually suggest they're not really hearing each other, the scene, as shot and edited, feels spatially more incoherent than an action scene from a Michael Bay movie.

In essence, and despite what some of her somewhat ill-advised actions might make Vincent believe, Barbara’s a little shocked to see her ex in New York and with good reason; she has long since hooked up and moved in with her new Australian beau (Murray Bartlett, more famous for playing TV’s hottest fortysomething in HBO’s Looking). But even this doesn’t seem to deter Vincent, whose obstinacy seems to exponentially increase each time someone dares to hint at the fact that he’s probably a square peg and the now-unavailable Barbara’s a round hole.

Even the appearance of a statuesque Danish girl (Sofie Rimestad) doesn’t help in this regard. According to genre conventions, she would be the cute wallflower Vincent doesn’t notice because he’s obsessing over something unattainable. But because Hostiou and Macaigne, who are credited for the screenplay along with Lea Cohen, ignore such genre conventions, she feels like a rather shapeless character, hovering uneasily between being an enabler of Vince's crazy-impossible dream and a random stranger to talk to (so that at least Vincent isn’t one of those loners forced to talk to himself).

The story’s generally episodic nature, which makes the film feel even more inconsequential, is at least partly due to the fact that this extremely low-budget feature was shot over two separate periods, in the winter of 2012 -- material of this first shoot already found its way into the 2013 short film Kingston Avenue -- and the summer of 2013, with a bare bones crew composed of the director, Macaigne, Moran, cinematographer Mauro Herce and sound engineer Romain Le Bras. The resulting time jump in the narrative feels less organic than random.

Indeed, it’s the lack of any kind of narrative framework that ultimately undoes the film, as there’s barely a character arc at all for Vincent or the others; stubbornness, or having to deal with stubbornness, doesn't allow for much personal growth — it's just exhausting. The many scenes shot on the fly, with Vincent interacting with actual random strangers in the streets of New York in awkward English, don’t add veracity so much as simply augment the sense that this film doesn’t know where it’s going or what exactly it wants to say.

Production company: Bocalupo Films

Cast: Vincent Macaigne, Kate Moran, Sofie Rimestad, Murray Bartlett, Audrey Bastien, Jean Lebreton

Director: Armel Hostiou

Screenplay: Armel Hostiou, Vincent Macaigne, Lea Cohen

Producers: Gaelle Ruffier, Jasmina Sijercic

Director of photography: Mauro Herce

Editor: Carole Le Page

No rating, 86 minutes