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A Slow & Poetic Romantic Drama With An Intriguing Twist
"Low Life" is an intellectual and eerily poetic romantic drama filled with discomforting sexual tension- made by French director Nicolas Klotz.
The film focuses on a group of young French activists who have dedicated themselves to protect a group of African Immigrants that live in a squat somewhere in the suburbs of Paris. Their group consists of a number of people, but we mainly focus on the disintegrating relationship between Charles (Luc Chessel)- who has gone annoyingly emo- and Carmen (Camille Rutherford) along with their close friends, Djamel (Michael Evans) and Julie (Maud Wyler)- who have issues of their own. (There are also a few other characters that IMDb doesn't have listed and whose names I forget at this point in time as they had smaller roles)
It is more than just a romantic drama though. Klotz has actually taken two story lines and interwoven them with a few connecting factors- mainly: the beginning of the film; the end of the film; and Hussain (Arash Naimian), an Afghan poet that is in the country illegally and living at the squat where he rooms with a young African boy. This second element of the plot focuses on a bizarre series of unexplained deaths.
After a brief introduction to the characters, the film begins with its most ambitious scene; one that instigates both elements of the storyline. As the state has begins to crack down on illegal immigrants- a reflection of France's growing sense of xenophobia- a protest is organized to prevent the police from seizing an African woman they are seeking to deport. The activists form a human wall to prevent the police from entering the squat, but they are unsuccessful at holding them back when they resort to force. A group of skateboarding anarchists intervene- setting cars ablaze and firebombing the police. During all the hooplah, Carmen and Julie are slightly injured, and the officer in charge of the raid is struck by a molotov cocktail- his leg catching on fire.
We are introduced to the more intriguing but less dominant plot line when, ironically, the burned officer is taken into the squat where his injuries- which did not seem to be life threatening- are tended. Nonetheless, he oddly ends up succumbing to this injury.
The more dominant romantic element of the drama is also exacerbated in this scene when Carmen- who had come into the squat to get her own wounds tended- briefly meets Hussain, who becomes instantly infatuated by her compassionate presence and beauty; as she is a seductress, of sorts.
After both the immigrants and activists encounter a number of threatening run-ins with the police, each of which- in some sort of bizarre twist of fate- leads to an officer dying. The police react by stepping up the level of harassment: targeting the squatters; profiling them; and serving more and more people with what the immigrants call their "death papers" (deportation papers).
Meanwhile, as Charles struggles to win back Carmen's affection, she becomes distant to him, as she has suddenly fallen in love with Hussain; won over by the allure of his poetry (which she can't even read).
The climax occurs when Hussain receives his own "death papers". After a close call, Carmen goes against the code of the group, bringing Hussain into their home where she can hide him from the authorities and have him all to herself.
Subsequently, the African boy that Hussain had been rooming with at the squat is subject to a humiliating encounter with the police, which has a drastic affect on him. Evoking the Bison God of his homeland, the boy gets together with a group of African Witch Doctors, who perform a ceremony on the deportation papers that he was given by the police. It turns out that these men have been placing spells on their "death papers", and each of deaths in the film can actually be attributed to the possession of a set of these hexed papers.
I won't go into details about the conclusion of the film as you should watch it to find out for yourself. But I will say that it ends up a tragic love story.
The atmosphere of the film is very dark and bland- almost colourless- except for the deep red of blood and dark orange of fire. Both of which could be used to symbolize passion. It is also an extremely slow moving and poetic film. Klotz uses a number of long lasting, aptly placed, stationary shots with only subtle movement that forces us, as viewers, to ponder these moments during which an important detail of the story is being revealed. Overall, the film is long, depressing and utilizes a dialogue that is so overly poetic that it borders on pretentiousness. I still kind of liked it, but it is definitely not for everyone. 6 out of 10.
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