Monday, February 25, 2013

La Bande des Jotas - Marjane Satrapi

La Bande des Jotas (Marjane Satrapi - France/Belgium) 74 minutes

Filmmakers of straitened means have long been attracted to the south of Spain. As well as the raft of spaghetti westerns shot in Almeria, there is Fassbinder’s Whity and Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell. Marjane Satrapi is not exactly incapable of mustering together a budget but after the relative flop of her second feature Poulet aux prunes, she decamped to Valencia to film on a shoestring this oddity that is as enjoyable as it is undeniably disposable.

La Bande des Jotas is Satrapi’s third film and her first not to be adapted from one of her own comic books and also the first without co-director Vincent Paronnaud. She takes the lead role herself, a woman seemingly in distress but endowed with plenty of cash (a wry nod, no doubt, to the film’s frugal production). Upon arriving at her hotel she discovers she has mistakenly reclaimed the wrong suitcase from the airport. It belongs to a pair of badminton players, Nils and Didier (Mathias Ripa – Satrapi’s real-life husband - and Stéphane Roche) who are travelling around Spain playing in tournaments. Having got her suitcase back, our heroine takes the pair out to dinner in thanks but then spies a mysterious hood who she claims has murdered her sister and is now trying to track her down.

Nils and Didier then become embroiled in her problems when they accidentally kill the man, who is one of five brothers – Juan, José, Jorge, Joaquin and Julio – the titular bande des jotas. The pair join Satrapi on her peregrinations across the Spanish Riviera, now, in their turn, tracking down the gang.

The film is low-budget but fairly handsomely put together nonetheless (Satrapi and Roche collaborated on the photography and editing) and the director herself is a surprisingly engaging comic presence, a Persian female Woody Allen, if you will. La bande des Jotas is quite clearly a film that was made up as it went along; the action occasionally frays but it provides enough laughs for an improvised comedy. It was presumably intended as a placeholder, or an interim exercise until her next film and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It clocks in at 74 minutes and the use of Impact – the typeface of one million internet memes – in the title sequence sums up the jokiness quite well. It is also more enjoyable than Jim Jarmusch's woefully serious The Limits of Control. We might be better served by a new comic book from Marjane Satrapi (her last, Poulet aux prunes dates back to 2004) but we can be grateful for such an inoffensive curio as this for the time being.