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ROME FILM FESTIVAL Alice in the City / France

Leila, a political hip-hop musical

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Leila, a political hip-hop musical

Leila (Leila Bekhti) is a beautiful Parisian student of Arab-French literature, Gab (Benjamin Siksou) the rich, spoiled son of a cop, a capricious loafer about to be married. What do they have in common? Nothing, which makes them perfect for one another.

Especially in a film such as Audrey Estrougo’s Leila, which kicks off the Alice in the City section of the Rome International Film Festival. The musical opens with flashy Broadway-style credits against a backdrop of Parisian streets, which Gab zips through in his convertible – until he hits Leila’s younger brother. Nothing serious, but a good reason to offer to take them to the emergency room. Where, as in a Jacques Demy film (though with the shaky pitch of Christophe Honoré films), there begins a courtship set to 1960s and 70s tunes.

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Musicals are moreover the preferred genre of modern fables and, when Leila’s friends see Gab for the first time, one blurts out in surprise: “But he’s bourgeois!”. The ready response from the group’s pragmatist? “What kind of knight in shining armour would he be if he weren’t bourgeois,?”

Every fairy tale also needs its witch, who here appears in the form of Cécile Cassel. Dumped just two weeks before the altar, she has more than one reason to be irritated. However, rather than look at the “intermittences of the heart” – the private is political, as it was said once upon a time – the film looks at big themes: immigration, clashes with the police, the protests of illegals.

All of which is sacred, especially from a civil point of view, but a bit stifled in the film’s just 87 minutes; perhaps too few to include the musical numbers (the most surprising of which are hip-hop, the subject of the director’s documentary Encore un printemps, a contemporary take on Romeo and Juliet and social activism. The latter prevails in the film’s finale, with a sequence of high rhetoric and, through archive images, justified indignation.

Produced by Fidélité Films, in co-production with Wild Bunch, Mars Films and France 2 Cinéma, Leila is handled internationally by Wild Bunch and will hit French screens on February 9, 2011.

(Translated from Italian)

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