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An original film and its deceased sponsor and patron
Sandrine Veysset's Countdown/Il sera une fois is like a meandering philosophical short story. It begins on a cold, isolated section of the French coastline. A boy, Pierrot, (Alphonse Emery) is counting down to zero wherever he goes, and when he first appears on screen he's at 12,000-something. A big sad teddy-bear of a man with long gray hair and a long beard (Michael Lonsdale) is following him. It's him as an old man. He has a young girlfriend named Elise (Lucie Régnier). His mother Nadine (Dominique Reymond) is always ill and listens obsessively to a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. His father Henri (Jean-Christophe Bouvet) is always out at his mysterious club. They live in a big old house at the top of a cliff over the water. A frustrated cripple and his wife are the girl's parents. The cripple is raising a pig for slaughter. These are the elements that Veysset's new film provides us with, but its essence is the boy's transformation. After the old Pierrot confronts the young Pierrot, the boy is revived. He stops counting backward and begins counting forward. He kisses Elise and flirts with her mother. He isn't going to have regrets; he's going to live. Old Lonsdale, now 76, is still a strong presence and Alphonse Emery is a precocious talent. The two look remarkably like one another.
The making of this highly original mood piece and meditation on life and aging and death was interrupted by the suicide of Humbert Balsan, who had been producer and inspiration for Veysset's four previous films and was the producer for this one. After faltering a while, Veysset was able to finish with the assistance of producer François Cohen-Séat. Countdown is dedicated to Balsan.
Shown at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, March 2007, along with a documentary about Humbert Balsan's life, this is an example of the sort of original, independent film Balsan championed in his remarkable career as a producer of not only French but Middle Eastern and African filmmakers.
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