Sunday, March 4, 2012

At Rendez-vous: 18 YEARS OLD AND RISING from Fred Louf, and LOW LIFE from Nicolas Klotz and Elizabeth Perceval

There's a whopper of a scene in Rendezvous With French Cinema's must-see The Snows of Kilimanjaro (to be reviewed here soon) in which a young bartender flirts with and coaxes an older woman to have a drink by guessing her condition and state-of-mind and then finding just the right liquor for that moment. It's a delicious bit, the likes of which you'll not have witnessed, and one of your responses will probably be: Who the hell is that kid?! That "kid" is Comédie Française actor Pierre Niney, and he's indeed a find. Which is no doubt why co-writer and director of 18 YEARS OLD AND RISING (J'aime regardez les filles), Fred Louf, cast him as the lead in his very charming little coming-of-age/first-love movie and then let him run with it. M Niney crosses the finish line with speed and style.

First love and coming-of-age are certainly two of the most-used genres in cinema, and M. Louf combines them very smartly by making his lead character, Primo (M. Niney, above and below), an outsider in many ways but one who is utterly determined to get in. Though he lies and cheats, we know why and what he wants, and so we suspend judgment, hoping that he'll begin to understand things and grow up a bit. Primo gets involved with a group of upper class kids, in particular two attractive young ladies and one surly, snarky lad. As his lying mounts, he buries himself deeper and deeper until, at the finale, he gets involved in a high-end wine-tasting for which he risks all.

Politics and class rear their heads along the way (there's a political election afoot that will put Mitterand on the map, and Primo will be voting for the first time), but nothing tops the thrill of first love for our hero -- even if he is clearly fixated on the wrong girl. The young cast is most attractive -- talented, too -- as are the actors who portray Primo's fond-but-annoyed family. Louf's light touch makes everything, from beatings to beratings, all part of the game for our sweet and goofily memorable young man. 18 Years old and Rising screens Monday, March 5, at 6pm at the IFC Center and again Saturday, March 10, at 3:45 at the Walter Reade. The filmmaker will make a personal appearance only at the latter venue.


TrustMovies has only seen two films from the director Nicolas Klotz and writer Elizabeth Perceval, but both are unusual enough to have found a place in his movie memory book: Heartbeat Detector (click and scroll down) from 2007 and now LOW LIFE. Both films tackle their subject matter -- the Holocaust and corporate power in the former, illegal immigrants in the latter -- from a variety of angles and themes, with the poetic chief among these. From the opening moment of Low Life, as we hear words spoken almost as though they are poetry and then learn that they are coming from the mouth of a young actress memorizing her lines, we're in territory both real and surreal.

Soon we're at a protest (for the immigrants and against the police) where odd things happen -- the oddest being a policemen rescued then aided and cared for by the protesters. We meet the immigrants and the young people, mostly students, who are helping them, while falling in and out of love with each other and with their wards. The movie is a tumble of conversations and events -- poetic, dramatic, political, philosophical, even magical -- as cursed, burnt immigration forms keep resulting in the death of everyone from a policeman to a woman who happens to be eating in a restaurant next to our would-be hero. Does she deserve to die? Don't we all, the movie seems to suggest, because none of us have done enough for the cause of justice.

The film is dark, dismal, cold and full of threats and spells, and yet it is also langorous -- a sleepy movie, slow-paced, sexual, with a quietly charismatic lead actor (newcomer Narash Naimian, above, left) who might also win the bizarre ear contest, and a leading actress Camille Rutherford (above, right, and at top with camera) who exhibits just the right amount of perspicacity tempered with hesitation.  Low Life will screen tonight at the Walter Reade at 8:30pm, tomorrow, March 5, at IFC Center at 10:05pm and Wednesday, March 7, at 2pm, again at the Walter Reade.  Nicolas Klotz will appear in person only at tonight's Walter Reade screening.

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