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Randy Jay Burrell,
Claire van der Boom
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When I watched the trailer for Low life I got the impression that I am about to watch an subversive contemporary french film. But when I am writing these words, an hour after I left the theater I feel like I was cheated and misguided. It is like someone seduced me because they knew what I was looking for but eventually these were nothing but two hours of bad cinema.
I don't want to discuss much about the plot, but do like to discuss the way it was told.
The premise of the film tells the stories of bunch of young activist who dedicate their lives to protect illegal immigrants in France while they all live in a squat located in the city of Lyon. One of the main story lines follows after the love story of Carmen and Hussain who has no legal staying visa.
Immigrations is a burning issue in Europe and especially in France, where every 8th person is an immigrant. But when it comes to independent cinema it is just one of these themes that you can exploit in order to be accepted to big film festival as much as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or hunger in Africa. The movie discusses heavily about the immigration reality in todays France but instead of trying to create a dialog with the audience and send them home with some thinking material, it lectures them. The creators even twist the truth here and there in order to justify the phrase "we live in a reality that acts like we are the Vishy regime" as it had been said by one of the characters. It is a soft and cowardly way to say that the French government treats it's immigrants is similar to the way that the Nazi's treated the Jews. To support this argument there are many visual and textual references during the movie such as presenting the police as the gestapo and the police camera coverage on the streets as a self-fulfilling prophecy of 1984. The most developed character in the film is Hussain, an Afghan refugee poet who has to struggle everyday between his will to experience and enjoy life to the very basic need of existence which is survival by forcing him to hide from the authorities what later becomes a solitary. Unfortunately due the directors choice to tell multiple story lines that never really cross each others way, we never get to feel and experience with the character what is a so- called modern version of Anna Frank.
The director's intentions was to create a non compromised realistic film. In order to do so he uses method that 15 years ago could have been considered dogmatic: Hand-held camera or street view camera, rough cuts, natural light, Hyper realistic sound (apart from some very few scenes with music), the characters consciously looking directly to the camera while a meaningful texts are being heard on the background. All these artistic choices were suppose to hit the spectator in the stomach and open his mind to the "real other truth", But it doesn't work. This "shtiks" are nothing but a sand that is being thrown to the spectators eyes in order to blind them from the lack and shallowness of the story. Maybe the director should have gave up the need to have a plot and than it could have been a better film. But instead there are couple of plots that are not fully explored. In some point you find yourself putting the pieces together while asking yourself will this lack of coherency and overloaded texts will get any better? The director had all the components to create something different and strong - the subject - immigration in France, artistic freedom, very motivated cast but judging by the result he wasn't able to put all these elements into a shocking or moving film. I sense that the directors aimed to high, I guess that he wanted to achieve to many goals and it leads to disorganization that might feel cool on the set but doesn't pass the screen test. As a result the acting suffered as well. While it seems that the actors worked hard to develop their characters by creating multi emotional layers, it still feels like you watch an acting class more than a film. I don't blame the actors at all, I blame the script writers for writing long pretentious pseudo intellectual monologues and dialogs and the director (who was one of the writers) for his inability to actually direct his actors and use their abilities. Most memorable was that very annoying emo kid, instead of letting him whine about his difficult life he should have gone to a homeless shelter or to the Holocaust memorial museum or at least someone could have slapped him so he will realize that his life are far from being dark, sad and horrible.
The movie demonstrates unexplained and undeveloped relationships and story lines, comes with a strong message by stating that the life and condition in France for immigrants are unbearable. But it draws a reality where you either support this message and you are a good liberal person or you either one of the french gestapo and you probably will vote for Marine Le Pen. But as it already known the reality is much more complicated than what is being demonstrated in this film. It doesn't do justice with nobody not even with the immigrants. in in the end of the day it is an arrogant self righteous caricature of of unfortunate reality.
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