by Fabien Lemercier
24/09/2011 - Marking a return to his roots, the working class neighbourhood of Estaque, his sun-drenched Marseilles, friendship and socio-political themes, Robert Guédiguian’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro [trailer, film focus] was presented in the Un Certain Regard sidebar (see news) of the 64th Cannes Film Festival.
Inspired by the Victor Hugo poem "Poor People", the film exudes a cheerful nostalgia, full of simple emotions and an idealism depicted in the difficulties of generational conflict. Pointing a mirror (and a more complex reflection that initially seems) on today’s loss of the spirit of solidarity and class conscience, Guédiguian continues to make resistance films, in a world in which the poor fight amongst themselves.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro begins with a very particular lottery. In a port company, the names of 20 union members’ names to be dismissed are pulled out at random. One of the 20 is Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a pillar of the General Confederation of Labour union (CGT) who could have saved himself easily, as his friend, brother-in-law and co-worker Raoul (Gérard Meylan) points out. But Michel, who often quotes [French socialist leader] Jean Jaurès, doesn’t want to. "There are days in which it’s difficult to be a hero”, says his wife Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride) sweetly when he hears the news.
Though he’s unemployed at 50, Michel has no reason to worry. He owns various homes, and lives off the rent he collects, he goes to the beach with his children, his family is always present and he’s still very much in love with with Marie-Claire, who works as a cleaning woman.
Their happiness is celebrated with a party and a collective gift made to the couple: a one-week trip to Kilimanjaro. But one night everything falls apart: two armed, masked, violent robbers break into the house of Michel and Marie-Claire as they’re playing cards with Raoul and his wife Denise (Maryline Canto). The money and the tickets are stolen.
This traumatic event will be revelatory. Michel discovers that one of the young robbers (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet) was part of the 20 who were fired at the beginning of the film. He reports him to the police, and then slowly comes to realise that that he was simply robbed by a man poorer than himself and that his own youthful ideals have been forgotten by himself, his loved ones and today’s young people. Going against the current, he will do everything with Marie-Claire to regain his self-esteem and reignite the flames of solidarity.
The Mediterranean charm captured wonderfully by the wide, open images of the ship-filled port and a quality cast (which includes Anaïs Demoustier, Adrien Jolivet and Karole Rocher) are the strong points of The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The director’s humanity does the rest, and it doesn’t matter if the screenplay takes some shortcuts and certain sequences are emotionally forced. A style that is in keeping with Guédiguian’s Marseilles temperament and combative spirit, summarised by a banner that appears at the beginning of the film: "The fight is a class fight".