Wednesday 27 July 2011

Red army: "Our Day Will Come"

Our Day Will Come is the latest project of the Kourtrajmé group, a loose collective of French provocateurs who previously brought us the backwoods horror Sheitan, and who seem primarily engaged with finding opportunities for their acteur fétiche Vincent Cassel to chew the scenery while rubbing up against certain French societal taboos. Cassel is here cast as a bored shrink in a dead-end provincial town whose mid-life crisis just so happens to coincide with his crossing paths with Rémy (Olivier Barthelemy, sporting the look of a Gallic Jesse Eisenberg), a troubled redheaded teenager on the run from a broken home.

The film starts as a subversion of all those inspirational-mentor movies: munching crisps while listening to his patients' sob stories, Cassel's Patrick couldn't be any less like the Robin Williams of Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting. Rather, this is a sociopath in respectable clothing, with his own idea of intervention therapy: he forces Rémy into barfights with Arabs to get him over his submissive streak, telling him he's actually a ginger Jesus, and encouraging him to raise an army of redheaded disciples while the pair of them rampage around the grim industrial north. It would almost be touching - if Cassel wasn't so good at playing dishevelled-scuzzy. (He lands himself in the middle of a threesome with the immortal line "So tell me, iss it true girls just wanna 'ave fun?". Try it for yourself some time.)

Indeed, the acting throughout is of a surprisingly high standard for what's essentially une blague: Barthelemy subtly points up the kid's growing assertion, and how Rémy's lust for life feeds off the older man's jadedness, tipping the balance of power in the central relationship back the other way. The director is Romain Gavras, himself staging a rebellion of sorts against the sober, politicised works of his father Costa: his real achievement here lies in making something striking, yet never overly showy, against a backdrop of some of contemporary France's most depressed and visually nondescript port towns.

Gavras understands the magnetic space, and limbo atmosphere, of those out-of-town shopping mall carparks where disaffected youth gathers after dark; he also ventures strange vignettes, like Cassel's encounter with a quizzical, seemingly abandoned pre-teen (a sister to Breillat's Fat Girl?) in the foyer of an incongruously plush hotel. There's a certain amount of dead time in the second act, as we wait for something (presumably apocalyptic) to happen, and some of it - Rémy encouraging the stout male constituents of a proletarian wedding party to kiss at gunpoint - is just childish. Its better stretches, however, are properly mischievous, offering both the pleasure of knowing readers of the French equivalent of the Daily Mail were being wound up something rotten, and a good deal more fun than the Kevin Spacey vehicle Shrink, a circumscribed and tasteful version of more or less the same story arc.

Our Day Will Come opens at the ICA in London from Friday.

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