In the first of my 'petite' reviews - quite simply, reviews of short films - I'd like to take a look at one of the films in competition as part of this year's 11th edition of My French Film Festival.
You'll be pleased to know that the Short Films portion of the festival is free to watch online until February 15, although a festival pass only costs €7.99 and gives you access to a diverse range of feature films as well, so I would highly recommend pursuing that option.
Entracte, which translates literally as Intermission, is the story of Yacine and his friends, Dorian and Sofiene, as they try to sneak into a multiplex cinema screening of Fast & Furious 8. The guard is savvy and thwarts their efforts to creep in via the emergency exit, so Yacine comes up with the idea of buying a ticket for their Cine-Club screening as it only costs €5 compared to the usual €11 new release price.
The plan, of course, is to go into the cinema where they're showing Vittorio De Sica's 1948 classic, Bicycle Thieves, then slip out soon after it begins to catch the next session of Fast & Furious 8. What starts as a seemingly simple tale of teenage rebellion and the vulgarity of the multiplex with its overpriced blockbusters, soon becomes an ode to classic films and the sacred value of the cinema experience.
I honestly couldn't think of a more timely reminder, as we're compelled to enjoy the festival from our respective homes, while cinemas remain shut across the country and in many other parts of the world. In these difficult times, it feels like we need cinema now more than ever - or at least the promise of having it once again - and it's important to remind people of that as we become increasingly accustomed to viewing everything through the lens of our televisions at home.
As part of his own personal awakening, Yacine allows himself to get caught up in this shared experience - where the cinema becomes the altar at which we worship film - even if attendance is sparse on that particular day. It becomes a profound and religious experience for him, but it also has a deep effect on one of the cinema employees who is experiencing their own doubts, and it's here that we see the communal power of film as a way to bring people together.
Speaking of the film within the film, I first became aware of De Sica's Bicycle Thieves when Richard Linklater mentioned it in an interview many years ago. As a huge fan of the director, I felt that was as much of a recommendation as I needed, so I sought it out as part of the Criterion Collection. In this instance, the touching story of father and son, Antonio and Bruno Ricci, plays off nicely against the implied struggles Yacine is experiencing with his own father.
Like Antonio at the start of Bicycle Thieves, it seems Yacine is lacking what he needs to take the next step in his life and career, so his father is pushing him to get a regular job rather than going to university. Perhaps I'm being a romantic, or maybe it's spelled out quite plainly, but it does seem as though Yacine might just be a budding filmmaker himself. Even the way he speaks about the Fast & Furious franchise has a poetic quality to it that suggests deeper thought.
Writer/director Anthony Lemaitre (who also plays the cinema guard) does an excellent job of capturing those teenage feelings where getting out of the house is so important, yet money is tight and you have to be careful about what you choose to do. Growing up in Australia, I can remember many times we'd have to stretch our limited funds to fit in a movie and something to eat. Most of the time it would end with 'hopping' the train home, then sneaking out of the station to avoid the waiting guard, but it was the price we paid - and cinema was always a key part of that experience.
I was also hugely impressed by Lemaitre's young cast, especially Iliès Kadri as Yacine and Mariama Gueye as Tamara. I find myself wondering what happened to them after the film's end, and whether the Cine-Club did manage to have another screening the following week. Most of all, I wonder what Yacine went home to tell his father ... I like to think it's that he wanted to be a filmmaker and he'd found what he needed to take the next step, but nonetheless it felt like a transformative experience and he wasn't the same person going back that night.
All in all, I'd call that an impressive takeway from what is otherwise a 16-minute short film. It left me feeling good - positive, even - and reminded me of what I really appreciate and miss about the cinema. In lieu of that, My French Film Festival is making a valiant effort to bring the experience to us, while reminding us of what we're all really looking forward to. I could be cynical but, feeling as I do right now, I also really appreciate the short introduction from festival sponsor BNP Paribas which says: "Together, let's keep sharing cinema emotions." I look forward to doing that, so thank you - and amen.