Saturday, August 20, 2016

Boy, oh, Baye! Nathalie is terrific in Ali & Bonilauri's French thriller, THE ASSISTANT

If you haven't yet met Nathalie Baye, here's your chance, in a new French thriller just making its VODebut entitled THE ASSISTANT (La Volante). This four-time César-winning actress is always good and usually a lot more than that. In her current movie -- directed by Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri, and co-written by the two, along with Philippe Blasband and Jacques Sotty -- she plays Marie-France, the mother of an adult son on whom befalls an accident that changes her life and, it turns out, the lives of a number of others some years after.

The movie begins with both death and birth via a sudden shocking situation that no one would ever want to endure. We catch our first sight of Ms Baye in the scene just after, and the manner in which her character handles her grief is so awful and intense that this enables us to accept and believe what follows. And what follows is, as they say, something else.

The filmmakers Ali and Bonilauri (shown above, with Ali on the left) intend their film to be first and foremost a thriller, and they succeed in this regard quite well. Ms Baye, being the fine actress she is, intends to give us character above all else, and this combo of character and thrills make the movie a cut or two above the usual for this genre. This is the duo's third full-length film, though TrustMovies has only previously caught their second one -- a bizarre little character study/thriller released to DVD stateside as Wild Camp starring two indelible French actors Isild Le Besco (A tout de suite) and Denis Lavant (Beau Travail).

In The Assistant, the filmmakers begin with a whoppingly intense few minutes, after which they quickly cut to a few years later. It is here than the "revenge" would seem to start (though the plans for it have clearly been laid for some time previous). Or is this wholly about revenge? Perhaps, we wonder, it might be something more. The directors and their fine cast keep us ever alert and guessing, with Ms Baye in particularly good form as an obsessed woman whose many talents -- if used toward other ends -- could probably have made her President of France.

Baye's Marie-France is a force to be reckoned with, all right, and if the filmmakers use a good deal of shorthand in piecing together their fraught tale, they give us enough info to follow along without keeping too far ahead of the game. There are a couple of moments when we might not quite buy what is happening (how come the young boy is so suddenly disenchanted with his teacher/grandma/mother surrogate?), yet so fast is the pacing and propulsive the motion (the film lasts but 87 minutes), that we can't easily get off this roller coaster. Nor would we want to.

Also prominent in the fine cast are Malike Zidi (three photos above) and Sabrina Seyvecou as the hapless couple who starts the ball rolling, Johan Leysen as Zidi's all-too-trusting dad, and Jean-Stan Du Pac (above, left, and center right, two photos above) as the innocent object of revenge.

From Distrib Films US, The Assistant is heading straight for VOD, where it will make its debut on iTunes this coming Tuesday, August 23 -- for some end-of-summer fun and games -- and then hit theaters for a very limited release in late September.

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