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Thirteen-year-old Lou Bertignac is a gifted but lonely child. At high school she is already in fifth form, two years ahead of the other students, but she has no friends. At home, she does not feel too good between a father who is a stickler over principles and a deeply depressed asthenic mother. When the French teacher asks the class to write an essay and to make a presentation about a subject of their choice, Lou chooses homelessness. She hopes to be helped by a homeless girl she has noticed at the Gare d'Austerlitz, who begs and asks for cigarettes there. Nora, nicknamed No, reluctantly accepts to be interviewed by the serious-minded child. They meet several times et the café and although No is intemperate and unpredictable, a little frightening in fact, Lou soon cannot do without her any more... Written by
Zabou Breitman, the demanding director of such poignant human dramas as «Beautiful Memories» (2001) and «Someone I Loved» (2009) seems a far cry from Zabou, the funny girl of such undemanding comedies as "Les cigognes n'en font qu'à leur tête" (1989) or "Promotion canapé" (1990). And yet she is the same person. Simply, when she was a comedian what we saw was her persona, not her personality. What we see now in the four features she has directed in a decade is Zabou Breitman's true colors. As a person, she is an intelligent, sympathetic, profound human being and as an artist, she has a knack both for capturing reality and inspire emotion. All these qualities are of course present in «No et moi», her latest directorial effort and although no crowds actually flocked to see it, her new film is as good as her former ones. What may account for this relative public failure may be the unappealing theme of homelessness. That is a pity, for I am certain the people who have overcome their fear have liked «No et moi», which in no way insists on the squalor of the situation. The real subject is in fact the friendship formed between No, the homeless one, and Lou, the thirteen-year-old gifted but lonely girl and how the former, although at bay, helps the latter to assert herself. Not the standard feel good movie for sure but nor is «No et moi» the heavy-handed depressing social melodrama you could dread. Not sordid, as I put it before, the movie nonetheless candidly depicts the hardships a destitute has to go through (the constant struggle for survival, finding a place where to spend the night, finding food, begging, going to the soup kitchen...). Filmed in real locations (the Winter Paris Streets, the Gare d'Austerlitz, a real soup kitchen, etc.) with real homeless people but one ( Julie-Marie Parmentier as the insecure but aggressive No looks more genuine than them though!), «No et moi» could not ring more true. The same thing applies to the school scenes which are definitely not the caricatures of reality they are in most films. The students' reactions and the teachers' attitudes are realistic and having been a teacher myself I recognized myself in the French teacher for example. In addition to this welcome realism you get what Zabou Breitman does wonderfully, instilling emotion. The wild desperation of No, the loneliness of friendless misunderstood little Lou are subtly rendered and touch the audience without resorting to cheap tear-jerking tricks. Julie-Marie Parmentier gives an amazing performance as the eccentric, fast-talking, provocative No. This comes as no surprise coming from an actress who is at ease with excessive characters ( the murderous sister in "Les blessures assassines" ; the ravaged junkie in "La ville est tranquille"). To counterbalance this over-the-top character the director needed her exact opposite, a quiet, well-bred, serious-minded little girl with a slightly sad look. And young Nina Fernandez is just that. The perfect Lou Bertignac. She makes you believe she is as good as gold to such an extent that her rebellion in the second part of the film is all the more striking and unexpected. Another great turn is given by Antonin Chalon (Zabou Breitman's teenage son) as the joking and friendly dunce who becomes Lou and No's friend. He is so cool and funny that you can't resist his charm. Well-directed and acted, realistic and sensitive, "No et moi" is an excellent adaptation of Delphine de Vigan's best-seller of the same name. At the same time faithful to the spirit of the novel and consistent with Zabou Breitman's other works, it is a must-see. If you missed it on the big screen, you can make up your loss by watching it on TV or buying the DVD or the blu-Ray when it is released.
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