'Truk' ('L'enkas'): Film Review | Venice 2018

Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival
Solid performances enhance a mediocre story.

Sandrine Bonnaire and Sandor Funtek play mother and son in this feature debut from French filmmaker Sarah Marx.

It’s hard out there for a food-truck guy in Truk (L’enkas), the smudgy feature debut from French filmmaker Sarah Marx. Constructed around a hard-knock, lived-in performance from Franco-Hungarian thespian Sandor Funtek as a just-released-from-jail young man who dives straight back into illegal behavior involving ketamine — hence the emphasis on the "k" in the title, to the detriment of the poor, missing "c" — this is the kind of first work that’s more promising in parts than as a whole.

A small supporting turn from deglammed French star Sandrine Bonnaire, as the lead’s down-and-out mother, will help this film score festival slots like its spot in Venice in its supposedly edgier Horizons competition, where Truk had its world premiere. However, it will be more at home in young director showcases and at French film weeks, where expectations for first works might be a tad lower than at A-list festivals.

“What did you do to offer me a family?” asks Ulysse (Funtek) on the day he’s been released from jail after serving two-thirds of his sentence. It is a question his clinically depressed mom, Gabrielle (Bonnaire), has a hard time answering, as she’s more in need of help herself than capable of giving anything to anyone else. During Ulysse’s time in the slammer, his ex-girlfriend Lena (Virginie Acaries) looked after Gabrielle, but she’s broke now and wants to finally move on. This puts Ulysse in a hard spot, as he needs to find the money he’d promised Lena and the money needed to pay for both the rent and professional help for his mother, which steers him straight back into the world of crime he finally escaped during his period in jail.

Ulysse’s hare-brained get-rich-quick scheme involves selling ketamine from a food truck during music festivals, with the vehicle baptized "truk" (a somewhat awkward reimagining of the original truck name, "l’enkas," which puts the "k" of ketamine in the word "en-cas," which means "snack"). It’s never explained how festgoers are supposed to figure out they can get spiked beer alongside their burgers, though both Ulysse and his buddy David (Alexis Manenti) believe in their plan and initially, it seems to pay off. 

Marx, who shot a prison documentary as well as a lot of rap videos, co-wrote the screenplay with her producers, Ekoue Labitey and Hame Bourokba. Their story is a straightforward rise-and-fall yarn set in the urban underworld that’s more often concentrated on advancing the plot than in investing in the characters that populate it. For example, a detailed explanation of how a corrupt countryside veterinarian helps the gang get their drugs — ketamine is widely used as an anesthetic for animals — might offer a great how-to guide for newcomers but it doesn’t help the audience understand much more about Ulysse, the challenges he faces and the feelings he might have about having to resort to what got him in jail to save his mother, who got worse in his absence. Indeed, while logistical and practical details abound, the emotions of the protagonist, who already isn’t a big talker, tend to get relegated to the background. A late-in-the-game twist, which could have been a smartly ironic way of uniting the strands involving David and Gabrielle, also remains more of an idea than something that’s organically tied into the preceding material. 

Thankfully, Funtek, whose compact build suggest a slightly more angular, Mitteleuropean version of Nick Jonas, is a magnetic performer. Most famous internationally for playing the gay friend of the lesbian lead in Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color, the dark-haired actor imbues Ulysse with a convincing can-do, always-push-ahead attitude, which helps to give the pic a forward momentum even in its more predictable moments. While Marx hasn’t quite given Funtek a star-making turn, because the character’s psychology is finally more sketched out than properly explored in the screenplay, this is a solid calling card for the intense and compelling charisma of the actor, who should be able to transition to bigger lead roles after this.    

Bonnaire, without a doubt the biggest name on the project, has just a few scenes but duly impresses as a woman whose life has been derailed by her battle with depression. Seemingly without makeup and walking around like a zombie prone to sudden, fiery outbursts, she would steal every scene she’s in if it weren’t for Funtek, whose eyes and body language in their handful of scenes together suggest how he loves her unconditionally in theory but how he’s hopelessly lost in terms of what to do with her in practice. While it is clear what attracted the actress to the role, it does feel a bit disappointing that the mother-son relationship is but a small part of the plot.  

The background in documentaries of both Marx and Canada-trained cinematographer Yoan Cart help imbue the loose and gritty visuals with an appropriately unsentimental edge. 

Production companies: La Rumeur Filme, Les Films du Circle, Orange Studio
Cast: Sandor Funtek, Alexis Manenti, Sandrine Bonnaire, Virginie Acaries, Stephane Mouchabac, Laurena Thellier, Moussa Sylla
Director: Sarah Marx
Screenplay: Sarah Marx, Ekoue Labitey, Hame Bourokba
Producers: Ekoue Labitey, Hame Bourokba
Director of photography: Yoan Cart
Production designer: Alexis Segura
Costume designer: Clara Rene
Editor: Karine Prido
Music: Laurent Sauvagnac, Lucian M’Baidem
Casting: Dominique Szpindel
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Horizons)
Sales: Versatile Films, Orange Studio

In French
85 minutes