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France, present day. A professional conman passes himself off as the boss of a construction site building a highway extension. He cons the whole region, hires dozens of workers and cynically enjoys the profits of his scam until he meets the lady mayor of a small village that the road will go through. She intrigues and unsettles him, before revealing to him a world he never knew: feelings. How far will he go now to save his victims and save himself from his own lies? Written by
The Film Catalogue
A snippet of news about a con-man, who acting as a representative of a construction consortium built 2 kilometres of highway in a high unemployment area in northern France, caught the eye of filmmaker Xavier Giannoli. The con-man Philippe Miller (played distinctly with a confident restraint by François Cluzet) enters the town planning to pocket cash bribes paid out by suppliers in return for contracts. However Philippe ends up becoming emotionally involved with the inhabitants of the town, romantically with its major Stephane (Emmanuelle Devos) and counterintuitively decides to force through the construction. Not only for the sake of the people he supposedly employed, but also for a deeply rooted need of self-fulfillment.
Initially cautious and reclusive with hints of petrification Philippe unwittingly dons the 'boss' cap in his rash attempt at profiteering only to discover to his dismay, that the hopes of the whole town are being placed on his shoulders. His revelatory "I've wasted too much time" highlights that personal gain is no longer essential, as he finds calm and happiness within his new role. The road he builds becomes a material accomplishment, a landmark to his success. (Shame that apparently in true-life the road had to be torn apart to avoid 'profiteering from illegal activities').
Nonetheless the dramatic impact has less to do with Philippe himself and more with the social turmoil initiated by the would-be builder's appearance. Despite various misgivings and warning signs none of them is followed through, as everyone becomes too involved in the change that is enacted. Happiness filters through the town summarised by a spectacular dance of heavy-duty construction vehicles around the bewildered Philippe.
Much akin to movies such as "Jerry Maguire" Giannoli however manages to keep the thrilling emotionality, which transgresses the con genre, and connects its with an astute European social-realism. "In the Beginning" does however tend to plod too carefully and meticulously through the whole sheenanigans, purposefully avoiding short-cuts, movie gimmickry and the sorts. That does cause the story to stall midway through and cause a certain overstatement of the messages on society. The solid runtime will dissuade many from viewing, even moreso that 30+ minutes seems essentially purposeless. Nonetheless the striking portrayals complemented by forceful direction wins big with a thoroughly satisfying movie underlining the need of self-fulfilment for personal dignity.
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