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'Two people meet, a combustion takes place, and the universe is different.'
24 MESURES is an experimental film from young writers Yann Apperry and actor/director Jalil Lespert. On the surface it is the examination of the interaction of four characters on Christmas Eve, but it is one of the more intricately woven tales of the happenstance interaction of people meeting and the impact of those chance meetings on the lives of each other. In an opening statement we learn that in jazz it takes 12 bars to introduce a theme, interpret it, and return to the theme: perhaps it takes 24 bars or measures to tie separate theme developments together.
We first meet a hooker Helly (Lubna Azabal) who is down on her luck working for an abusive john. She leaves a traumatic encounter, visits the foster home where her only child lives and is turned away despite its being Christmas Eve because of her drugged out appearance and behavior. She hails a cab, gets into a taxi driven by a strange man Didier (Benoît Magimel) who reluctantly agrees to give her a ride - but Helly must perform an act for him, an act for which he will pay her well: together they visit a hospital where Didier introduces Helly to his nearly comatosed father as his bride to be. This staged act seems to be a tender farewell between a son and father and Helly goes along with it. They leave, Helly is paid, there is a physical act of passion that seems to be critical for both, and then quite surprisingly Didier finishes his role dramatically, leaving Helly to run along the street to escape: she is stuck by a car and we presume she is dead.
Jump into a wealthy home where a young society girl Marie (Bérangère Allaux), dressed as a man, discusses her life with her distant mother (Marisa Berenson). She leaves the house, drives away to find a club where like females will be and on the way she is in a hit and run accident - yes, the victim is Helly, who is not dead, and Marie takes her to a hospital where Helly is tended, awaits an MRI, but leaves the hospital hoping again to see her son Victor but to no avail. She ends up in a bar where she encounters Marie and the two begin dancing and suggestive behavior. While this is happening we meet Chris (Sami Bouajila), a jazz musician, who is working to prepare a gig with jazz pros Archie Shepp and Steve Mac Graven, but Chris refuses to be dictated to as to how he should approach music and leaves after a fight. Chris happens into the bar where Helly and Marie are under the influence of drugs and dancing and eventually the threesome leave for Chris' apartment. Marie and Chris enter a physical liaison on the same bed where Helly is seemingly asleep (but she has succumbed to post brain concussion injuries. And the film simply ends as out the window we see flocks of birds in structures and random flight patterns.
The film is very dark (cinematography by Josée Deshaies) and in deep contrast to the time of year when happiness usually reigns - Christmas Eve - but then perhaps that is yet another of the contrasts that the writers see as part of this riff on chance encounters. The actors are consistently excellent including the cameo roles by Aurélia Thiérrée and Clotilde Hesme. But the power of the film is in the capable hands of Lubna Azabal, Benoît Magimel (far too underused an actor), Sami Bouajila and Bérangère Allaux. For a first film by actor Jalil Lespert it serves as a notice of an intensely gifted artist.
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