Le Gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike)

Childhood is a time when we try to adapt to the world around us and it is a place from where we draw most of our memories. Le Gamin au vélo (The Kid with a Bike) follows the childhood of a boy for a few days as he tries to navigate and live with the world he is cast in. When the movie begins, Cyril is at a foster home where his single dad left him due to financial problems. Cyril is a bright kid and tries to track down where his father has disappeared to. His search brings him across Samantha, a woman who helps get his old bicycle back. She allows him to stay at her home during weekends, while he continues his search. When he finally finds his dad, his heart breaks when his dad asks him to never see him again since he wants to move on with life. Distraught Cyril falls prey to the local teenage gangster, who uses him to get one of his jobs done. The repercussions of his con job end up affecting him and his relationship with Samantha.

Set in summery Belgium, Le Gamin au vélo is a light and breezy experience. Reminding me very much of my carefree summer holidays of childhood, the cinematography feels very natural and personal. Many facets of the human experience emerge through the prism of Cyril’s adventures: search for a father figure, discovering good and bad, learning that actions have reactions, and finally a woman discovering that she likes to have a son. All of this comes through without any of the affectations that are typical baggage in a Hollywood movie.

Thomas Doret, who plays Cyril, is a gem of a find. He brings across the precociousness of his character with a performance that feels very real and devoid of mannerisms. How the directors managed to extract such a raw performance out of him, I cannot even imagine. Cyril is never seen being concerned about his mother. Leaving the mother out of the story leads the viewer naturally to use Samantha to fill that role. Cécile de France plays this role quite effortlessly, as she discovers slowly that she quite likes having a son around. Directed by the Dardenne brothers, a Belgian director duo, Le Gamin au vélo is a sunny and warm look at a tiny slice of childhood. I found the movie to be a delight and might check out more movies by the Dardenne duo in the future.

De vrais mensonges (Beautiful Lies)

It is hard to resist watching a romantic-comedy set in an European summer, that too along the Mediterranean coast. In De vrais mensonges (Beautiful Lies), popular French actress Audrey Tautou is a hairdresser who is watching her separated mom slip into depression. Sami Bouajila, the help at her salon is besotted with Audrey and sends her an anonymous love letter. She redirects that letter to her mom through Sami in a bid to cheer her up. A love triangle takes shape when her mom pursues Sami, believing him to be her secret lover, while Audrey starts to have feelings for him.

Petite Audrey is sickly thin in De vrais mensonges, I hope she is keeping well. She is pretty unremarkable here, with Nathalie Baye (her mom) grabbing all the sunshine. The fairly predictable plot has a few nice surprises, but is a bit too long. This is a fun movie to watch once, if not for the story then just for enjoying sun dresses in Sun-soaked Southern France. 🙂

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks)

With a partner who is learning French for fun, I am getting to watch quite a few French movies. Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks) is a comedy movie that uses the preconceived notions of people of different regions for its jokes. Philippe works for the French postal service and is living a comfortable life with his wife and kid in a sunny Southern France town. His rosy life is rocked when he is transferred to a town in Northern France. The Southerners believe that this place is supposedly unwelcoming and cold and its inhabitants, called the Ch’tis, are uncivilized. As Philippe heads on his depressing assignment, his family chooses to stay behind. To his surprise, Philippe discovers that the Ch’tis are warm and he falls in love with the place and the people. But, on his weekly visits back home he paints a sorry picture of the North, in a bid to extract sympathy and love from his wife. He is in for a shock when his wife decides to pay him a visit.

Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis is a simple and fun movie. Though there is nothing exceptional about it, it is hard to go wrong with this movie if you are tired or stressful.

Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare)

Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare) is a 2003 French movie directed by Yann Samuell. The entire movie revolves around a game of dare that a boy and girl play on each other. Sophie is being harassed by her classmates when Julien offers his toy box to console her. She dares him to do something crazy for her, which he does by setting off the school bus down a hill. This game of daring each other by offering the toy box continues all their life. Their dares wreck the lives of their parents, their partners and finally the love they have for each other. Or does it really?

Guillaume Canet and Marion Cotillard play the main characters with great aplomb, effortlessly pulling in the viewer into their maniacal world. The plot is surreal and nutty, but engaging. Two alternate endings are shown for the movie, one of which is the real one. I so wished the director had chosen the other ending. Jeux d’enfants is a dreamy romantic tragedy that can be watched once.

The Science of Sleep (La Science des rêves)

In his fantastic romantic drama Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the director Michel Gondry blurred the lines between dreams, reality and memory. His next movie in French, The Science of Sleep (La Science des rêves), continues on the same course. Stephane has a overly vivid imagination due to which he sees reality as richly as his dreams. On returning to France after a long stint abroad, he lands a boring typesetting job. Things are a bit more interesting at home, where his new neighbour is a pretty girl named Stephanie, who he slowly falls for. But his graphic dream-reality mixups threaten to ruin his relationship.

The Science of Sleep deals with a very interesting concept that is creatively depicted in the movie by using stop motion animation. This sense pervades the entire movie and it feels like a daydream. Stephane has a quaint gift, Stephanie is a quirky girl and we want these two to fall in love. However, they live in this intensely boring plot that turns off even the most optimistic viewer. Watch this movie only if you find the concept interesting.

Heartbreaker (L’arnacœur)

So many movie gems are found by serendipity. In the case of Heartbreaker (L’arnacœur), a 2010 French romantic-comedy, discovered at a recent screening at the university. The trio of Alex (Romain Duris), his sister and her husband are in a special business, that of breaking up a girl in love. They take the contract from the victim’s relatives and Alex becomes the heartbreaker, who will floor the girl with his charms and thus show her the inadequacy of her current partner. Their undefeated streak runs into trouble when they are hired to break up Juliette (Vanessa Paradis), who is marrying an Englishman in 10 days at Monaco. The trio set up elaborate plots to give Alex a shot at her, none of which work and meanwhile Alex actually falls in love with her.

Heartbreaker is a truly entertaining movie arriving after a long dry spell in the rom-com genre! Engaging from the opening scene itself, the movie totally rests on the cocksure and comical Romain Duris. The sunny glamourous setting of Monaco, the Frenchness (if there is something like that), the racing plot and the romantic ending, all complement the movie nicely. Funny in every other scene, Heartbreaker never takes itself seriously and yet captured me in a rapture that ended only when the credits rolled.