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Light, fresh style, this doesn't quite take off

7/10
Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California
14 July 2006

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Nicolas Duvauchelle shows promise in this film. Angel-faced but with tattoos and a rough whisper of a voice that scream he has a tough side, he has a naturalness and sensitivity with an edge of raw emotion and he never ceases to seem real, at ease, and present on screen. He's had good appearances, in Little Thief by Eric Zonka, Claire Denis' Beau Travail. He got to play the boyfriend who quickly gets dumped in Jacquot's abortive and overrated New Wave homage, A Toute de Suite. He had an strong turn in Xavier Giannoli's intense little fatal-disease triangle film Les Corps impatients. His main squeeze is hottie Ludivine Sagnier (Ozon's Swimming Pool), and he's been in a lot of movies for a 26-year-old. But now he needs a director with a strong hand to mold this soft clay into something definite and arresting, as Jacques Audiard molded the previously lightweight Romain Duris in The Beat My Heart Skipped/De Battre mon coeur s'est arreté into someone dark and intense. But that doesn't quite happen here, though Duvauchelle gets to chew up the scenery more than once.

Director Jean-Pierre Améris is unfamiliar to me at this point but clearly has a fresh, clean style and works with direct physicality and minimal dialogue: hence a light-weight boxer in his early twenties fighting dangerous compulsions seems an appropriate subject--but Améris doesn't do enough with Duvauchelle, other than let him show he can box and act drunk. Antoine (Duvauchelle's character)is a boxer -- it's his only calling -- but in the daytime works for a funeral home, dealing constantly with corpses, coffins, graves, and bereaved people, thus feeding his own obsession with death; his parents have recently died, and his sister Claire is very close to him, and he has a coach ("Chef," Barnand Campan) who cares. It's seemingly been Claire and Antoine against the world so it's hard to take when Claire plans to get married. Antoine's Vietnamese-French girlfriend Su (Maï Anh Le) is lovely and sensual and the camera lingers on her bronzed body like on a smooth wood sculpture, she's sweet and calm and she and Antoine are sweet and passionate together, but her enigmatic, not to say inexpressive, world alienates Antoine, and he knows few outlets other than fighting, getting drunk, hastily making love, or running away from things.

Améris needed to give us some more visceral shocks, some more plot elements. "Lightweight" has a light touch but like a feather it tends to float away. The French DVD is no-frills, without chapters or subtitles, not even French ones, and the shoot was on DV. I liked a scene where Antoine is meeting with Su's parents, and 2/3 of the time they're speaking Vietnamese (unsubtitled). There's an organ-accompanied sequence of a funeral in a church whose simplicity and elegance are irresistible: at this point the whole funerary theme begins to have a rhythm and make sense. But generally one wishes for more characters, more interesting mise-en-scène, some sense that the action has more momentum and direction. A party of all Asian youths points this way, but goes nowhere--it's one of the times Antoine gets quickly drunk, punches somebody, and bolts. Montages of Antoine and Claire together in the present with blurry flashbacks of fake old film footage of them as children with their parents are obvious, but have a nice rhythm. This is a movie with promise and some vivid moments that doesn't quite come off. The happy ending is visually and verbally naturalistic in style, but feels a bit corny and tacked-on.

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