'Vincent' ('Vincent n'a pas d'ecailles'): San Sebastian Review

Vincent Still - H 2014
Christmas in July Productions/Laurent Thurin-Nal

Vincent Still - H 2014

A simple and captivating feature debut from lead actor Thomas Salvador

A superhero fantasy rewritten for a rural French setting

Imagine that Aquaman hailed from rural France and had no criminals to fight (and no effects budget to speak of), and it gives you some idea of the flavor of the flight of fancy that is Vincent. This earthy-but-watery tale of a young man who achieves superpowers on contact with water may sound highly unlikely on paper, but so persuasively does debut director-actor Thomas Salvador immerse the viewer in his imaginative world that it seduces entirely, in a silent comedy kind of way, before running out of breath over the final straight.

Adult fans of real-world fairy tales will be charmed, and their children intrigued, by a small, distinctive project that has the rare virtue of knowing exactly what its true limits are.

The life of the titular construction site worker, Vincent (Salvador), is rather isolated and depressing, except when he heads for the countryside (beautifully shot by Alexis Kavyrchine) to swim in lakes and pools of the forest. When he does that, he’s able to swim and leap from the water with the speed and grace of a dolphin; when he first does so, a moment carefully prepared for and superbly judged, it’s quietly breathtaking.

Luckily for the plot, contact with water also makes Vincent 10 times stronger. He encounters local craftswoman Lucie (the rapidly rising French actress Vimala Pons), and their relationship develops with the usual moments of hesitation and shyness until he decides to share his talent with her. (The fact that this is surely true love is signaled by the fact that Lucie takes it all in her stride.)

There is pleasure to be had in watching Vincent himself take pleasure in testing to see how far his abilities will take him, and in watching the director explore how his curious idea would play out in the real world. The obvious excesses are scrupulously resisted.

But things take a darker turn when his coworker (Youssef Hajdi) gets into a fight, and Vincent scares off his attackers in a hilarious coup de theatre guaranteed to raise a smile. Pursued through the French countryside by the Gallic equivalent of the Keystone cops — which is not to underplay the very real tension that initially comes off the screen — Vincent takes flight.

The world of the film is an innocent one in which it occurs to nobody, least of all Vincent itself, that there may be big bucks to be made out of his aquatic abilities. But such innocence chimes in well with the old-world purity of Vincent’s vision: It is pleasant to watch a film in which human greed is absent. But perhaps that is precisely what our hero is fleeing from.

Any film about a fish-man is going to be awash with metaphors about freedom, the imagination, and about escape from the everyday, but the script, confident in its story, barely lingers over them, preferring to tell its simple tale without unnecessary decoration or emphasis. The final 20 minutes involve a little too much running around, and lack the one, final twist in the tale that could have made the difference.

There is little dialogue, and much of the film’s charm derives from its witty visual sense: Indeed, Vincent would have worked just fine as a silent comedy. Salvador pitches it just right in a conceptually challenging role, remembering at all times that Vincent is entirely unremarkable and even boring, except for the one big talent that makes him special and which threatens to undo him. (Indeed, exactly why the vibrant Lucie might fall for such an awkward, silent type in the first place is a bit of a mystery.) Facially at least, Salvador must have been studying Buster Keaton.

Production company: Christmas in July
Cast: Thomas Salvador, Vimala Pons, Youssef Hajdi, Nicolas Jaillet, Nina Meurisse
Director: Thomas Salvador
Screenwriters: Thomas Salvador, Thomas Cheysson, Thomas Bidegain
Producer: Julie Salvador
Director of photography: Alexis Kavyrchine
Editor: Guillaume Saignol
Sales: Le Pacte

No MPAA rating, 78 minutes