|Index||8 reviews in total|
Paul is a small-time crook, ripping off construction businesses by
usurping identities and reselling equipment he acquires. His travels
bring him to a small town where his false identity (Philippe Miller)
brings hope that a stalled highway construction project will finally
get underway and let the inhabitants get out of the financial crisis
they are in.
Town folks and local companies are all too eager to trust this stranger who inadvertently brings hope and when they begin to talk numbers and even bribe him, Paul decides to seize this golden opportunity. At first, he is awkward in his Philippe Miller persona but quickly gains assurance.
This part of the story plays much like a false identity con, not unlike Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. But lately, French cinema has excelled in portraying work, economic and social issues and this film is no exception. The more "Philippe" stays in town, the more he gets to know the people in this town, their hopes, dreams and their problems.
And so, the line begins to blur between Paul and Philippe, especially as the project itself takes life. Of course, suspicion arises every so often about whether "Philippe" is really who he pretends to be but are always rapidly squashed, because "at least, things are happening".
What is fascinating is to see almost the whole town, in a certain way, complicit with Paul's scam-turning-into-good-deed. Even Paul himself forgets about the easy money and becomes obsessed with finishing the highway project. We as viewers can't help but wonder if the townsfolk couldn't have made it happen by themselves had they had common will to do so.
The movie becomes less and less about a heist and more and more about project management by a man way over his head. The direction by Xavier Giannoli is tight, evocative and right on target. The amazing score by the underrated Cliff Martinez is perfect and beautiful, immersing us in this story that is part drama, part thriller. The entire cast was well chosen and all are believable but this is very much a film following lead actor François Cluzet, one of France's best actor who keeps on getting better and better even in his 50s now. Cluzet oozes charisma and could lead any big production.
People who enjoy thrillers such as the aforementioned Catch Me If You Can or dramas such as Up In the Air should have a great time watching this great film that tells an amazing and original story inspired by true events that took place in the 90s.
In the Beginning/À l'origine is the story of a small time crook who
falls into a big con and thereby becomes both a hero to the locals and
a mensch in his own eyes. The con and the project are doomed, but both
are sweet while they last.
This suspenseful and curiously moving film includes a virtuoso lead performance by François Cluzet, was in competition at Cannes, and received eleven nominations at the French César awards. Director Xavier Giannoli (of The Singer) has again made a picture that's a sensitive study both of in individual and of a region. He also succeeds, like Lucas Belvaux in Rapt, in turning a news story that might seem on the face of it rather trivial into psychological and philosophical thriller. It makes you think, it keeps you on the edge of your seat, and it shows once again that the French really know how to make movies.
Paul (Cluzet), who uses the fake name Philippe Miller, is a petty con man who travels all around France Xing off construction projects on his highway map of the country. Taking down names and phone numbers from roadside signs and making deft use of product catalogs, he steals and resells parts and equipment from suppliers by pretending to be a project manager.
Miller hits pay dirt, and ultimately gets in much deeper than he plans, when he comes upon a highway project abandoned two years earlier due to its invading the habitat of a protected beetle. Faking involvement with the parent company in the project, he collects money and starts it up again.
Miller meets the eager, energetic Monika (Stéphanie Sokolinski, the singer known as Soko), who works at his motel, and her fresh-faced, sensitive boyfriend Nicolas (Vincent Rottiers). Before long he also meets the local mayor, Stéphane (Emmanuelle Devos) and becomes her lover.
Miller gets a local bank to issue him checks and advance funds for payments to suppliers that demand immediate payment. The bank wants a piece of the action too. But they will require authentication that Miller can never provide.
As the project takes off, Cluzet, as Miller, at first seems to be imploding. When asked embarrassing questions, he has a dozen ways of deflecting them. If all else fails he just says he has another appointment and runs off. The situation is too tempting for Miller to resist. He knows he's getting in way over his head. But isn't it the nature of the con man to seek bigger and bigger deceptions? Actually nobody loses much here.
The whole thing that terrified Miller begins to delight him. For once he is somebody. "I have wasted a lot of time" is one of his saddest lines to Stéphane, in bed. Of course ultimately Miller is going to go to jail, but he starts desperately trying to get the segment of highway completed before the time limit on payments ends and many bills become due. He's now paying out in salaries to the workers all the many thousands he accumulated at the outset. The money doesn't matter to him any more. He becomes a worker himself, pushing a broom to spread the asphalt in the rain. It's winter and the project is becoming more and more difficult to finish.
In the Beginning is a nail-biter all the way through, and in the end you will react as the local community did to the real con man in this story: some of you will take him for a real S.O.B. Others will believe him to be a pretty nice guy. Environment and action create identity. We are what we do. Here, Miller is what he makes happen. Workers don't always care about the utility of their employment. They don't much care about beetles. (What happens to them is barely mentioned. In fact they were transplanted to a forest.)
Cluzet, an extremely busy and popular French actor most recently seen by American audiences in Guillaume Canet's Tell No One (another hit thriller), is a neutral Frank Capra everyman, an individual who can seem shut down, but with a twinkle in the eye, a grump with a jovial chap hiding inside waiting to be let out. The film gradually lets out that chap, and then, when the big corporation comes in and the police descend, the highway project lit up at night like a film set, Miller is a little man who's strangely triumphant in defeat, waving the battered flag of his fake company.
This is another marvelous French film that transcends genre, turning a crime thriller into celebration of work. Judging by this and Giannoli's The Singer/Quand j'étais chanteur, he has great sensitivity to solitary wanderers and paints rich psychological portraits in a complex social environment. He doesn't know so well how to end things. There is a little uncertainty whether we can take À l'origine as a mood piece about economic desperation (as Up in the Air partly is; but this is Down on the Ground), a process picture, or a crime thriller. But it achieves success in each genre, because of the energetic world the director creates, the rich moral ambiguity he preserves. The secondary characters are of course a bit schematic, a bit obvious, but with such actors, they never seem that way. Like Laurent Cantet's study of a strike and of class conflict within a family, Human Resources, In the Beginning is about the human need to be doing work.
An official entry at Cannes 2009 as mentioned with 11 César nominations, À l'origine opened in Paris November 11, 2009 to very, very good reviews; more than one calls it "a great film." Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema co-sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance and screened at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center in New York in March 2010.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a peculiar film. It's said to be based on a true story, but I
can't find any details of the true story after a search (which I admit
was short) on the net. Other reviews tell the story, so I won't repeat
it. It's compelling to watch, but at the same time painful to watch,
because while you're watching a group of characters and coming to like
them more and more, you know it must all end in tragedy.
François Cluzet is excellent as the con-man who gets vastly out of his depth and flails about ever more frantically to keep his head above water. Emmanuelle Devos is at her most striking and most vulnerable; the more I see of her the more magnificent I think she is. It's a pity she's not a little better at choosing her roles; some of the films she's been in have been shockers. There are also very nice turns from Gérard Depardieu as a very tough, seasoned crim, and Soko and Vincent Rottiers as a struggling young couple.
The film is too long by about 30 minutes. The Hollywood vice of prolixity seems to be affecting the French now. It's 130 minutes long; the version shown at Cannes was 155 and must have been excruciating. There are too many scenes that are prolonged to the point of tedium, and there's a section just after half way through where the story progresses very little which could have been cut entirely. It would have been a much better film if it had been a bit tighter.
I still give it 8. The power of the story and the quality of the performances and the direction make it worth that.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This very surprising story is inspired from actual facts. I couldn't
believe it. That's enormous. A simple guy, in fact a crook, has
succeeded in impersonating a big construction manager; and all this
with the help of a little town, a community struck by unemployment and
shutting down of works all over the country side; it takes place in the
north of France...
I can't believe that so many people could have been fooled by such a guy. Myself I would have never given him a cigarette. Cluzet is efficient in the leading character, the crook. But if he is faithful to the genuine fellow, the crook, that makes the story more unbelievable. How can so many poor people without work, searching money to feed their families, could trust such a man? Hope, of course, and that makes me puke. A nasty character, I assure you. But there is some ethics in this tale. There is a love story too. But I guess that these two ingredients were put into the screenplay in order to satisfy the audiences.
A pretty good film. A social movie which emphasizes on unemployment crisis in the North of France.
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.
This movie is an exercise in story-telling and it carries us almost right to the end (where there are a couple of hackneyed devices). Our hero is a screwed up thief who gets involved in an enormous project way beyond his abilities or finances, and his life becomes a parody of many people's business style (including the bank-managers's). So the story takes us from his con-tricks through to the local community latching on to him (it's really not his fault) and pushing into completing the abandoned by-pass. It's then all about employment, so it develops on several levels. In the end, it's a crackdown on our sleazy-turned-heroic Francois Cluzet by the gendarmes and we read a few cue-cards about how it all worked out. Apparently our hero disappeared after serving his prison sentence --- perhaps he learned a movie was going to be made. We felt sorry for the widowed mayoress who strayed into his arms, but that's life...Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Philippe, a man who makes a living out of outsmarting gullible people,
finds himself in a small town which has been hit hard by the bad times
in the country. Assuming a new persona, he realizes the profits to be
gotten as he brings hope to the desperate citizens of the poor area.
Philippe, who is a low life, knows what right buttons to push in order
to get the influential business in town to go along with a scheme that
will complete a badly needed highway, which had been abandoned by the
The con man, wisely, underplays his role as he starts the machinery going. It is amazing the way this man worked to win the confidence of the people in higher places, including the lady mayor, a young widow, who welcomes the new atmosphere Philippe has falsely erected. Unfortunately, his heart plays tricks on him: he has fallen for Stephane, the mayor. The appearance on the scene of Abel, his partner in crime, gets the con man a reason to think twice about the monstrosity of his game.
Based on a true story, it was adapted for the screen by its director, Xavier Giannoli, in collaboration with Daniel Karlin. The results are quite startling, as a good idea of the scope of what Philippe created for his own profit, affects a whole community. Mr. Giannoli is helped with the wonderful cast he brought together to his project. Excellent performance by Francois Cluzet dominates the film. His intelligent approach to the material work well in reenacting this story. Emmanuelle Devos appears as Stephane, the mayor, and Gerard Depardieu, who has collaborated with Mr. Giannoli before, shows up in a small, but pivotal role of Abel.
Nowadays the French have come up with a renewed 'cinemà verité' formula , but it's based on social issues...ordinary folk, factory workers, union struggles, and the unemployed. Director X.Giannoli is foxy, but NOT as intelligent as he thinks. We are spoon-fed a story which becomes increasingly improbable, but which is sold to us with all the ability of... a con man. In this case, the director himself. Judging by a comment I have just read in this Data Base, he has found at least ONE dupe.... Con-Man stories can be very intriguing, in literature and in movies. Giannoli's skill is in the 'feel' he gives the movie... a truly 'documentary' cut, jerky but subtle photography; unusual actors...mainly the two lead female roles... and , of course, Depardieu whose now customary flabby, and 'whogivesadamn' look and attitude make us believe, and hope, we're in for some serious, provocative cinema. But, alas, things go downhill fast. Chance, and a vaguely comic misunderstanding, lead us up the garden path to a sequel of highly unlikely events (justified by the usual 'based on a true story' prologue). Far from wishing to spoil the potential viewer's curiosity, I shall only say that, as the film draws to a (flimsy) finale.... I, and I am sure , many others, start mentally collecting the highly improbable 'plot points', and end up feeling , well.... frustrated and somewhat cheated. Giannoli has done a variety of good things, but one too many smart ass tricks. The female protagonist is a courageous choice, given her not too graceful appearance. Mr. Cluzet is fine, until he,literally 'bares his teeth', luckily well into the story. The 'rescue scene' is strangely 'Hollywood'; out of keeping with the otherwise fairly austere style chosen by the director. Maybe the first sign that something is awry, comes with the whirling carousel of construction machines, trucks and 'catterpillars' which suddenly spring out of nowhere. Not only do they torment the protagonist, they warn the expert film-buff that he/she is in for a few, not too credible, surprises. Or Rip Offs. And Depardieu? One suspects he was doing the director a little favor here. His two appearances are all too brief and his celluloid 'au-revoir' is downright embarrassing. On an ethical level, too, the film is lost at sea. And those typical printed lines which appear on the black screen as an epilogue, seem to mop up the messy floor that director Giannoli leaves us with, A few sloppy and weak 'explanations'. Have I been too harsh? Maybe. But you see, I don't like being 'conned'.
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