Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Good Feeling About This

Le Pressentiment, the first film directed by the eminently admirable French actor Jean-Pierre Darroussin, takes place in Belleville, right up the street from chez moi and many of the locations are familiar to me on a day-to-day basis, including the funfair at the Bastille end of boulevard Richard-Lenoir, where I drunkenly shot at the rifle range last night with a few friends - real bullets as the poor guy at the stand informed us - and the actual cinema where I watched the film itself, the Majestic Bastille, right opposite the funfair. I remember John Banville telling of watching Polanski's Repulsion back in the 1960s in the very cinema that features briefly in the film. While Le Pressentiment is not quite Polanski there is a similarly pleasing weirdness to this coincidence.

The film is based on a 1930s novel by Emmanuelle Bové and treats of a wealthy lawyer who abandons his family to live a life among the great unwashed. The film takes the premise as a given and spends very little time on it, concentrating instead on the lawyer, played by Darroussin himself, and his relationship with the traumatised teenage neighbour whom he takes under his wing. The presentiment of the title is of something that surfaces in the last 15 minutes of the film and remains ambiguous beyond the closing titles. The film shares the humanism of the films of Robert Guédiguian with whom Darroussin has made about a dozen features, and the novels of Daniel Pennac, which are also set in Belleville but the film has none of the sentimentalism of either of those. The film is quietly remarkable and it is particularly lucid on the phenomenon of gentrification: no matter how sympathetic to the proletariat the middle-class interloper might be, the class difference is inelisable. I read this week an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur with the young Breton director Christophe Honoré, whose new film Dans Paris will be reviewed soon on this blog. He lives close to Belleville, on the crossing of rues Jean-Pierre Timbaud and Oberkampf and asserts that there is no aggressiveness towards him displayed by the Arabs, Africans or proles of the quartier. He makes it sound like he wishes there were.

I was mainly struck by the Darroussin's character's habit of nodding off while reading which is identical to mine, the eyes slowly shut involuntarily and the book held between the fingers keels over, no longer of any use. It is nice to know that somebody else has the same problem as me.