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March 1992, in a small town in the suburbs of Paris. During an alcohol fueled party, teenagers discover a body hidden in the bushes of a forest. A body that seems lifeless. Two weeks earlier. Simon, a 16 year-old teenager, has not shown up for class. Blood stains are found in a class-room. Run-away, kidnap, suicide, murder? A few days later, Laetitia, a student from the same class goes missing without her parents knowing where she has gone. A young girl with no dark background or connection to Simon. The next day, Jean-Baptiste, a third student, also disappears. Rumors start to spread. The psychosis begins... Written by
In 1938, Christian-Jaque made a famous mystery movie entitled «Les disparus de Saint-Agil». Seven decades later, a young filmmaker named Fabrice Gobert undertook the writing and the filming of «Simon Werner a disparu ...», a film that cannot exactly be called a remake but that presents more than one common point with Christian-Jaque's classic. The location is the same (a middle school in «Les disparus...»; a high school in «Simon Werner...», both situated in the Paris region) . They have a similar starting point (three pupils disappear in both stories) ; either film reveals young talents (Jean Claudio, Serge Grave, Robert Rollis in «Les disparus...»; Jules Pélissier, Ana Girardot, Arthur Mazet, Selma El Mouissi in «Simon Werner...» ). Last but not least, the two films show that appearances are misleading and have a surprise ending.
Of course 2009 has not much to do with the late 1930s and the treatment given to the two stories is logically very different. While Christian Jaque's film is a delightfully old-fashioned thriller, Fabrice Gobert's is an attempt at describing the young people of today; their centers of interest and their insecurities, particularly as concerns the things of sex in general and homosexuality in particular. Among these young people, many have a crude language, show off as much as they can but neither for them nor for the more shy or discreet is this period of life (the characters are in their final year of secondary education, so about seventeen or eighteen) a pleasure cruise. Which gives "Simon Werner a disparu..." a more psychological and sociological aspect than "Les disparus de Saint-Agil" whose heroes are younger, making Christian Jaque's film lighter and more playful but less profound.
Another major difference with "Les disparus" is the construction. Traditional in the old film, it is more elaborate in "Simon Werner". Indeed before the truth is revealed in the contemporary movie, Fabrice Gobert will have told the story four times, the same situation being seen through the eyes of four different characters, each time bringing new information to the viewer, either bridging a gap or invalidating what has previously been mistaken for an established fact. This device, in addition to being mind stimulating, enables the director to show four different facets of his talent, as each segment is filmed in a specific style, in keeping with the disposition of the character witnessing the facts.
But where both films finally meet is when they alert the viewer to the danger of judging by appearances. Several characters in both movies (I will not tell you which ones not to spoil your pleasure) are suspected for reasons that are only apparently good. Some facts are misinterpreted. All this is good for suspense but also helps the viewer to question themselves and to avoid hasty judgment.
All in all, " Simon Werner a disparu...", Fabrice Gobert's commendable first feature film can boast an intelligent thought-provoking script, a talented direction and a very good cast (the always reliable Serge Riaboukine as the gruff physics teacher and a lot of new young talents). Which are three good reasons to go and see it.
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