Sunday, April 8, 2012

Un Balcon sur la Mer

By Sati. Sunday, April 8, 2012
80/100 (95 min, 2010)
Plot: Marc is a successful real estate agent in Aix-en-Provence. One day, he has an appointment with a woman to view a traditional country house. A few hours later, Marc finally puts a name to her face. It's Cathy, the girl he was in love with growing up in Oran, Algeria, in the last days of the French colonial regime.
Director: Nicole Garcia
Writers: Jacques Fieschi (scenario), Nicole Garcia (scenario), Natalie Carter (collaboration) & Frédéric Bélier-Garcia (collaboration)
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Marie-Josée Croze and Toni Servillo

"When I never spoke and you never looked at me"

"Un Balcon sur la Mer" is a delicate and fascinating mixture of romance and thriller. The film's director Nicole Garcia, who was born in Oran, Algeria, when Algeria was a French colony, had to flee in 1962 at Independence, because of the violence that erupted in the area. She clearly had a lot of memories from this time, not all of them bad. That is the heart and the reason of existence of this movie -the memories, the blend of sweet and bitter, that we never forget. The memories in this film deal with friendship and love between teenagers perhaps the sweetest they will ever know, surrounded by violence, senseless attacks and the threat of death.

The film follows Marc, who is married to his boss's daughter and who is a father himself. He appears to be happy, having a loving family and good career as a real estate agent. But the havoc comes in his life when he recognizes his childhood sweetheart Cathy in his new client. We don't know it at first, though. The slick trick the film plays on us is that we know less than the characters we are watching. We see them act and only then we find out why they acted this way. So at first we see Marc looking as if a thunder struck him. And then we see him laughing and crying, as if he found a treasure, he lost a long time ago.
At first we only see Marc and Cathy curiously looking at each other and it's not until the second day that he asks her if he is right, if she is truly his long lost friend. She says yes and they share memories, about the play they were both in, about the candy store across the street. Marc appears to be more affectionate, while Cathy is vary of him and seems unmoved by his affections. That is until the passionate night they spend in a hotel. Then Cathy goes away, but not for forever - she already set a meeting regarding the purchase her firm makes from Marc.

And then, the plot thickens. Marc's mother tells him that Cathy, little girl he loved died shorty after Marc left Algeria. She never told him that because she knew how much he was hurting, just by leaving her there. Marc can't believe it, as he just saw Cathy and they talked for hours about their memories. That is the moment when the film turns from drama into a romantic thriller. It's hard to predict what is happening and when you find out, not only are you going to be surprised but it also makes the story far more interesting and heartbreaking.
The film is not very objective in the way the characters are portrayed - they are all very sympathetic and nice, despite the fact what they do is wrong and it causes harm to others. Marc is cheating on his wife and breaking up his family, all because of the girl he haven't seen in years, all because of the puppy love. Cathy is deceitful and conniving, but I can't say more not to spoil your surprises. It is only because of superb cast that we still feel for the characters and no matter how wrong it may appear to be, we root for them to end up together in the end of the movie.

Jean Dujardin is excellent as a man who is torn between the comfortable life he leads and the memories that never really left him, that now came back to haunt him even more. Those memories bring him both joy and pain, the sweetness of the first love and the suffering that was to leave her. The best scenes are the ones where he is silently debating what to do, because he knows if makes one more step there will be no going back.
But the best performance in the film is delivered by Marie-Josée Croze who plays Cathy. She is just fascinating on screen, as she is very mysterious and we never know what her plan is and why is she doing things that we see her do. When the reason is revealed it's still unclear what her goals are exactly, but as we see the childhood flashbacks it's impossible not to feel for her character. Her character is both a calculating femme fatale and a hurt little girl, who is hopelessly in love.

The film moves back and forth between present time and the time Cathy and Marc where kids living in Algeria. Those scenes serve many purposes and come back frequently from another point of view. The movie plays very slick trick on us - at one point Marc is haunted by what he didn't notice and there are many shots in the flashback sequences where we, the audience, also don't notice certain things that are vital to the plot, despite them being right there in front.of us, the whole time.
 The one problem I had with the movie is how the story is executed - while the main twist is immensely effective, for some reason the writers added more elements that make for surprises and connections between the characters. It was complex enough as it was, but what makes things worse is the uneven pacing - for the first hour of the film things are really beautifully shown on screen and although there is plenty of mystery it is never difficult to follow what is going on. But then, for some reason, between sequences some time passes and in the last 20 minutes it feels like huge chunks of the story are missing somewhere.

The film redeems itself in a very beautiful and symbolic ending. The message of the story is that even if you lost something, another beautiful person, another lovely relationship may not be that far away. Two people connected by their memories, tainted with blood and violence, but also adorned with laughter and the magic of childhood are bound together. Some memories can't be erased, an even if they are connected with something painful, you would never give them up.

10 comments:

  1. Oooh i'll be checking this out! Jean Dujardin is awesome!

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    1. It's really a good film and he is great here.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. I will be seeing this. I haven't seen anything else other than The Artist and I really do like Dujardin

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    1. This one is one of his better films, I'd also recommend Les Petits Mouchoirs and 99 Francs.

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  3. Sounds interesting. Never heard of it before. Would be nice to see Dujardin in something else but might try that OSS 117 film. Do like a good twist though.

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    1. OSS 117 movies are really hilarious, especially the first one.

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  4. Which one of his films would you say is his best? Besides The Artist.

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    1. I'd say "Little White Lies", "Un Balcon Sur la Mer" and "99 Francs".

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  5. Oh, you and Jean Dujardin- get a room :) I'm kidding! sounds interesting, I might check it, despite my semi-hatred for French movies

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    1. Haha, oh how I'd love to do that :) Why don't you like French movies?

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