Three Worlds: Cannes Review

Three Worlds
Three worlds, all of them broodingly self-serious and none of them more than occasionally interesting.  

French director Catherine Corsini, who made 2009's "Leaving," weighs the impact of tragedy on three disparate lives in her new drama.

CANNES – The trio of principal characters in Catherine Corsini’s Three Worlds are all touched by the same tragedy and all react in different ways. But what they share is a propensity for emotionally opaque behavior that keeps them at arm’s length. While the story of intersecting lives might almost have worked as stylish high melodrama in the Pedro Almodovar vein, this stiflingly restrained French dirge about morality, guilt and atonement is chilly and constipated, mistaking ponderousness for intensity.

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: THR's Cannes 2012 Portraits

Opening with a jolt of out-of-control action, the film clocks Alan (Raphael Personnaz) and his two best buddies at the drunken tail end of a bachelor’s night, joyriding recklessly around the outer-Paris suburbs. We gradually learn that 30-year-old Al is the son of a cleaning woman who has diligently scrambled up the administrative chain of a car dealership owned by Testard (Jean-Pierre Malo), his mother’s longtime employer. Al is ten days away from marrying the boss’s daughter (Adele Haenel); he is also becoming a partner in the business and is directly in line to take over. With the keys to the office safe in his hand – hello, foreshadowing! – he’s the embodiment of the ambitious working-class dream.

But while speeding home from the bachelor party, he hits a pedestrian, and at his friends’ urging, drives off after a quick glance at the injured man (Rasha Bukvic). The hit-and-run accident is witnessed from her balcony by Juliette (Clotilde Hesme), a med school student completing her psychology specialization and wrestling with ambivalence about the direction her life is taking. She calls an ambulance and comforts the man as he loses consciousness.

PHOTOS: Cannes Day 8: 'On the Road' Photocall, '7 Days in Havana' With Benicio del Toro

Via police and hospital reports, Juliette tracks down the victim, an undocumented immigrant construction worker from Moldavia in critical condition, and his wife Vera (Arta Dobroshi), who is devastated to learn that if her comatose husband survives he will be a quadriplegic. Plagued by remorse, Alan also does some sleuthing. He visits the hospital, where Juliette recognizes him from the accident scene but says nothing.

Pregnant and uncertain about her relationship with philosophy lecturer Frederic (Laurent Capelluto), Juliette follows visibly distraught Alan, eventually confronting him. Increasingly unable to extricate herself from a tricky situation, she becomes a mediator between Al and the unknowing Vera. But negotiations are complicated by unexpected feelings between Juliette and Alan as the life he has strived for begins to disintegrate; and by the embittered reaction of Vera when she finally connects the dots.

The script by Corsini and Benoit Graffin is capably constructed and generates a modicum of suspense. But at no point do we ever feel much for these characters, despite the bursts of mournful strings underscoring their inner turmoil. The dithering irresponsibility of Juliette, in particular, makes her a frustrating central figure. The suspicion arises that even without the destabilizing effect of tragedy to condition their behavior, these three would be morose bores. And with their one-note solemnity colored by infrequent sparks of anger or despair, the actors do little to contradict that.

Claire Mathon’s moody widescreen cinematography gives a certain sumptuousness to the agonizing conflicts. But it’s all so elegantly cerebral it’s moribund. For a drama built around life-altering experiences, Three Worlds is remarkably unaffecting.

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard)
Production companies: Pyramide Productions, France 3 Cinema
Cast: Raphael Personnaz, Clothilde Hesme, Arta Dobroshi, Reda Kateb, Alban Aumard, Adele Haenel, Jean-Pierre Malo, Laurent Capelluto, Rasha Bukvic
Director: Catherine Corsini
Screenwriters: Catherine Corsini, Benoit Graffin, with collaboration of Lise Macheboeuf, Antoine Jaccoud
Producer: Fabienne Vonier
Director of photography: Claire Mathon
Production designer: Mathieu Menut
Music: Gregoire Hetzel
Costume designer: Anne Schotte
Editor: Muriel Breton
Sales: Pyramide International
No rating, 101 minutes