Saturday, April 16, 2011

TrustMovies has but a single Tribeca rec: Fred Cavayé's humdinger POINT BLANK

Why only one recommendation out of the couple of hundred movies showing at the annual Tribeca Film Fest that is currently cele-brating its tenth anniversary? Because TrustMovies has seen only a single film in this year's crop. Fortunately it's a terrific one: the best mystery thriller since Tell No One, but a good deal tighter and more economical (only 84 minutes) and utterly riveting from first wham-bam moment to impressive, hold-your-breath finale (the denouement's crackerjack, as well).  The film is POINT BLANK (À bout portant) and the director/co-writer (with Guillaume Lemans) is a fellow we're sure to be hearing a lot more about: Fred Cavayé.

Back in 2008, the first full-length film from M. Cavayé (shown at left) -- Anything for Her (Pour elle) was released to much acclaim in France and then interna-tionally. We never saw it here in the USA because our own Paul Haggis bought the rights and remade it as The Next Three Days -- lengthening it by about a half an hour in the process. The Haggis version had its moments (and performan-ces), but I would love to have the opportunity to see the French original, particularly now that I've seen Cavayé's follow-up. Currently his earlier film is available via Amazon in both NTSC and PAL formats. You can also "Save" it in your Netflix queue, but these days, saving a film on Netflix can mean finally being able to view it anytime between next year and never. (What happened to this company that used to pride itself on the fact that, if a film was available on DVD, then it was available at Netflix?)

Back to the new film: What is it that distinguishes M. Cavayé's Point Blank? Certainly not its title, which will only put buffs in mind of the classic John Boorman movie with Lee Marvin. And yet this new Point Blank -- while having in common only the fact that, like its earlier namesake, it is part of the immensely popular (and populated) "crime" genre -- is every bit as good, in its own, much less stylish but even more enthralling manner.

As with his earlier movie, the filmmaker and his same co-writer set up a situation in which a man must protect his wife from harm, with a hospital used prominently in a scene or two. But here the similarities pretty much end. Cavayé and Lemans smartly travel the thriller road less taken: that of the situation in which, rather than simply having one set of good guys and another set of bad ones, the plot proffers three distinct sets: good, bad and questionable. This is a route taken by another fine French filmmaker, Florent Emilio Siri, in his exceptional thriller The Nest and his one American film Hostage. This "third party" does for crime movies what a "threesome" does for certain love stories: It adds immense interest and event to the situation, even as it increases both the risk and (less often) the reward.

Point Blank's team actually goes a step or two better by broadening the groups to include a fourth and even a fifth (though one of those last two turns out to simply be branch of the bad guys). What all this does is keep the audience, just like our hero (the wonderful French Everyman Gilles Lellouche, shown above, right, and in the photos further above), constantly on its toes.

Our second "sort-of" hero (from the "questionable" group) is played by that French institution Roschdy Zem (above, right. and at left, two photos up), who, in the last couple of years alone, has been seen to fabulous effect in everything from The Girl from Monaco to Tête de turc, Outside the Law and most recently at Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Happy Few. I can think of few French actors possessing more stature (metaphoric or actual) than Mr. Zem, and here, once again, he comes on like gangbusters, delivering the goods -- and then some.

The role of the wife-in-danger is played by Elena Anaya (above, left, and seen in NYC over the past year in Mesrine, Hierro and Cairo Time), who brings immense strength and specificity to a role that could be merely passive. The top-dog policeman is played by Gérard Lanvin, (below, left) with Claire Perrot (at bottom) as the underling most intent on seeing some kind of justice upheld.

Cavayé films mostly in a gritty, grey-and-blue-hued universe, but even in his most dimly-lighted scenes, you'll understand exactly what is going on. And considering the amount of violence, both threatened and portrayed, the film is a lot more subtle and less bloody than expected.

The filmmakers' dialog is economical and believable, the action scenes are swift and smart, and the plot races along so tightly and urgently that it will be just about all you can do to keep up. And, god, that is so bracing and enjoyable.

The two quiet, relaxed scenes in the film are also done exactly right. In one of them, a pregnant woman must coax her man into having sex (he's worried about harming the baby; she knows better). It's the kind of real, lovely little scene you'd never find in an American film, and it sets up the tone and characters splendidly for what is to come.

So, yes, consider this a rave review for a film (in French, with English subtitles) that will be shown three times during Tribeca: Sat, Apr 23, 9:00PM at AMC Loews Village 7 - 1; Mon, Apr 25, 8:30PM at AMC Loews Village 7 - 3 and Wed, Apr 27, 12:45PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 8.  Click here to get tickets. If you can't make any of the festival screenings, no worries: Magnolia Pictures will be releasing this one on July 22 in New York, with a national roll-out to follow. If Magnolia gives it the push that Music Box Films gave Trust No One, the company could very well have a modest art-house hit on its hands.

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