Tuesday, April 17, 2018

World War II France & two energetic brothers power Christian Duguay's A BAG OF MARBLES

French-Canadian filmmaker Christian Duguay has worked a lot in film and television over his 34-year career, but it may be his latest film as director and co-adapter of the famous novel/memoir by Joseph Joffo, A BAG OF MARBLES (Un sac de billes), that will help, as much as any other of his work, to memorialize this talented journeyman filmmaker. A movie that might best be described as Holocaust-lite, it is also one of that increasingly popular sub-genre's better examples.

M. Duguay, shown at right, has directed and co-adapted this tale -- which deals with the adventures of two young brothers during World War II France who must separate from their parents and older siblings in order that all might survive -- with such boundless energy and skill that the fact that what goes on here, despite its very real urgency and life-and-death stakes, does in fact seem like a kind of adventure.

Hence Holocaust-lite. And yet the adventure is so enthralling, the performances so good all around, the direction on point and the writing adequate enough to carry us easily along.

One of the movie's initial scenes involves our hero brothers deliberately obscuring a sign that notes, as signage was required to do once the Nazis took over Paris, that the shop in question is Jewish-owned. Consequently two Nazi soldiers (above) come in, utterly unaware of where they are. This fun-and-games approach works well because of the youth and so-much-left-to-learn of our protagonists, while bringing to the movie a kind of completely natural joie de vivre that it maintains throughout.

Those two protags are played with lovely insouciance and growing pain and anger by Batyste Fleuial Palmieri, above, center (as the older of the two) and Dorian Le Clech (above, center, left, and below). Both are excellent but the movie belongs mostly to young Le Clech -- because his character narrates and much of the tale revolves around him.

In the roles of the boys' parents are French standard-bearers Patrick Bruel (center, below) and Elsa Zylberstein, and both are every bit as fine -- strong, caring, charismatic -- as you'd expect. Supporting cast members are aces, too, from the French who aid these kids, including various priests, and the Nazis who would love to see them deported to the camps.

Granted, the movie does make it seems that just about every French man and woman was pro-resistance (with a few notable exceptions), and that, of course, is to be taken with the proverbial and usual grain of salt.

Toward the end our little hero does something quite lovely concerning the Petain-and-Nazi loving family that has taken him in to work for it. This fits perfectly with all that has already transpired and aids enormously in showing us why this hugely popular memoir/novel has remained in the hearts and minds of Frenchmen for so long.

Locations move from 1940s Paris to both the French countryside and the Riviera, so visually, there's plenty of beauty in the film, as well. The movie goes easy on the violence, blood and gore; consequently, when an untoward moment suddenly occurs, it hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.

From Gaumont, in French with English subtitles and running a just-about-right 110 minutes, A Bag of Marbles opened to generally quite good reviews on our cultural coasts last week, and this week on Friday, April 20, hits elsewhere across the country, including South Florida -- where it will play the Miami area at the AMC Aventura 24, in Fort Lauderdale at The Classic Gateway (note: The Last Picture Show in Tamarac will screen the film beginning April 27), and in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters and the Regal Shadowood 16, It will also open this week at the Movies of Delray and Movies of Lake Worth.

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