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After a feud with his father, Larbi a young Arab man decides to leave Dunkerque in the North of France to start a new life again in Marseille. But the meeting with a young couple, Christian (Clovis Cornillac) and Béa (Sylvie Testud) will modify his plans. After he helped Béa to hold a drunken Clovis until their flat and because he feels enamored of Béa, he stays with them to Christian's discontentment who obviously thinks that Béa deceives them. It's carnival time in the city and the characters will let their masks slip...
The director Thomas Vincent declared that his credentials for his first film were "Brassed Off" (1996) by Mark Herman and Ken Loach's cinema. His film takes place in times of economical recession and unemployment amid the working-classes but he well retained the lessons from his teachers. Although the living conditions of his threesome of main characters are filmed in a gritty style and under a gray sky, he eschews everything that could confer to his film a drab vibe. He located it at the time of carnival, a party during which for several days and under extravagant costumes, everyone drinks, dances, smokes, has fun and is taken in a whirlpool of joy. If Vincent follows these rules, he also taps them to better unmask his characters and unveil their real persona. Christian is a bad-tempered, racist man unable to assume his responsibilities. Béa is undecided whether she should leave him or not. This party time reveals the cracks of a fragile love. As for Larbi, he dreams of spending his days with her. But at times he appears hesitant to join the merrymakers because he's Arab and racism is latent, even in chipper moments. The novel paradox developed by Vincent on his trio of characters is that by getting embroiled in a whirlpool of dance, music and confetti supposed to conceal the murky, ambiguous parts of their minds, Vincent isn't afraid to lay them bare.
"Karnaval" also put two of the three main actors on the map: Sylvie Testud and Clovis Cornillac. It was one of their first roles and both of them already present the full extent of their talent. On a minor note, one isn't ready to forget the scene in which Cornillac, in the throes of a fit of madness sets a dog on fire!!! From the lessons learned from his English mentors, Thomas Vincent bestowed his "Karnaval" with a prime writing of characters which he turned to his own advantage by transferring it to a key moment in a northern French city to better construe their minds and give them presence on the screen. That's why everything rings true in this film and I would recommend it to you.
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