Peur de rien (Parisienne, 2016)

I love films about immigrant experiences, as they render tangible how a person encounters another society and negotiates their place within it (a feeling that I can relate to, in however limited a way) — and the outside perspective can provide real insights into the society under discussion, in this film no less. Parisienne (or “fear of nothing” in its original French title) is about Lina (played by radiant newcomer Manal Issa), who has moved from Beirut to Paris in 1993 — this, it turns out, is a period film, with requisite careful detail of fashion and music (and it seems the director was really into Frank Black back then). Lina is dealing with a volatile family situation and responds by throwing herself into her studies, not to mention a succession of somewhat interchangeable French boyfriends. In this respect, I really like the way the director Danielle Arbid sets up unequal relationships of power for her teenage protagonist, in some ways the core of the film’s characterisation — from early scenes as she fights off the untoward attentions of her uncle, to these entitled, slightly older, white guys (including Vincent Lacoste), most of them well meaning, but just unrelenting in their insistence; there’s a sublimated violence to their advances that’s nicely brought out (I don’t know whether on purpose but it seemed to be there).

At a narrative level, the film is somewhat meandering, and the camera echoes this at a formal level, being given to wandering off, or cutting in close-ups of gesture and set decoration. If at times it feels like there’s no real message exactly, then that is surely of a piece with the storytelling: Lina is a young woman still forming her ideas and trying these on via various social connections (she even falls in with some skinheaded neo-Nazis at one point, leading to a bit of discussion of Le Pen père, which suddenly feels not so distant in time). It’s a film about finding strength and seeking identity, and in that it’s very successful.

Parisienne film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Danielle Arbid دانيال عربيد; Cinematographer Hélène Louvart; Starring Manal Issa منال عيسى, Vincent Lacoste; Length 119 minutes.
Seen at Barbican Cinema, London, Thursday 17 November 2016.

Hippocrate (Hippocrates, 2014)

This is described on Wikipedia (and indeed on the French film poster pictured here) as in part a comedy, but I can only assume the person who wrote that has a different definition of comedy to me (not that the film is entirely without levity). It feels like an attempt to come to terms with the impact that austerity economics has had on key services like health, via the story of a young doctor (Benjamin, played by the perpetually stroppy-looking Vincent Lacoste) coming to intern at a busy inner-city hospital where his father works, and finding himself in a team pushed to the edge by budgetary cutbacks and pointless bureaucracy. One of the targets of that — and in many ways the heart of the film — is Algerian emigre doctor Abdel Rezzak (played by Reda Kateb), who is older and far more capable than the kids around him, but yet is forced to work on their level due to immigration requirements, not to mention a vague sense of underlying racism. This all comes out incrementally, as the film is more interested in imparting a sense of the day-to-day work that an intern doctor faces — presumably based on the director’s own experience of practising medicine (before he turned to film) — and uses a couple of different cases to draw out the underlying drama. It never fully coheres, and the character arcs of these two doctoral interns (especially the all-too-neat denouement) doesn’t quite feel convincing, but on the whole this is a good, well-made hospital drama, which along the way incidentally pokes fun at other such enterprises (most prominently House, M.D.).

Hippocrates film poster CREDITS
Director Thomas Lilti; Writers Pierre Chosson, Baya Kasmi, Julien Lilti and Thomas Lilti; Cinematographer Nicolas Gaurin; Starring Vincent Lacoste, Reda Kateb رضا كاتب; Length 102 minutes.
Seen at Ciné Lumière, London, Monday 6 July 2015.