by Bénédicte Prot
- Multi-talented novice filmmaker Rachid Djaïdani delighted the Director's Fortnight with an urban, mixed, and well-paced film, whose laughter however provokes a tragic tear.
Rachid Djaïdani's Hold Back [+see also:
interview: Rachid Djaïdani
film profile], one of the greatest surprises at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival's Directors' Fortnight (where it won the FIPRESCI Prize), is a decidedly urban film. Like a real Bedouin, the new director of Algerian and Sudanese descent leads us with his camera-pen (The film was made over the course of nine years without a budget!) on a dynamically edited walk across Paris, in which the audience feels as if they were there with him ("Only truth interests me," says Djaïdani) and native Parisians are delighted to hear the "verlan" slang they know so well, the melodious voices and verbal sparring matches of the capital's more culturally mixed neighbourhoods. Yet beyond evoking recognisable reality, this filmmaker from a mixed professional background (He was an assistant on the set of La Haine, a champion boxer, and a television actor, before joining Peter Brook's troupe, becoming a novelist, and then a documentary filmmaker!) has also made an original, funny and powerful film that, behind its spontaneity and urban slang, hides a startlingly refined intention.
Hold Backrelates an inextricable situation. The starting point is simple: Sabrina and Dorcy love each other and want to get married. The catch is that she is of Algerian descent, with no less than 40 brothers to remind her of this, starting with her inflexible and sinister older brother Slimane, and that Dorcy, an aspiring actor, is black and Christian. While North and Sub-Saharian Africans mix without problem in Paris' Belleville and Stalingrad neighbourhoods, it's inconceivable that they should ever marry. From brother to brother, street to street, as the rumour of Sabrina's intended marriage spreads in comical Arab whispers, the reaction is more or less the same.
This classic situation, which over the years has caused many real and fictional tragedies, here is depicted in all its absurdity, with unflagging humour that gives rise to delightful scenes to laugh at its contradictions (because, says an exasperated Sabrina, in Paris many North Africans are only Arab when it suits them). In one scene, one of Sabrina's brothers, sitting eating dates (that the police thought were hashish) with an "African" (read: black) friend, explains to him that of course an Arab woman could never marry a "nigger", and is then beside himself when the latter takes offence. In another, the characters are dumbstruck by the questions of a poll on minorities who hang out in the streets, just like they are doing. ("What minorities?" they ask.) In a third, one of Dorcy's North African friends gives him a sensational demonstration of his skills as an erotic dancer to try to convince him to hire him for his future bride's hen night...
But Djaïdani's love of music, dance, and other contemporary performing arts also shines through in Hold Backand here too he displays great diversity. In particular, Dorcy's profession gives rise to very funny sequences about acting, notably a terrible scene that allows for all the hatred of the Other expressed in Slimane's litany to be evacuated via cinematic means, again and again, until the conflict appears as what it really is, which is inner turmoil. The director's sense of nuance and humour means that he avoids rushed simplifications and instead portrays reality in all its complexity. All seems simple and beautiful when Sabrina and Dorcy play piano together, but then becomes "too complicated" in the face of die-hard inherited customs. This lively film may spark off laughter from its beginning, but it also evokes something infinitely sad.
(Translated from French)
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