Eye For Film >> Movies >> A Better Life (2011) Film Review
A Better Life
Reviewed by: Ali Hazzah
Veteran French thriller director Cedric Kahn presents a sombre view of the French social system in which the poor are trapped in a rigged situation that bleeds them dry.
An orphan who studied to be chef, Yann (actor-director Guillaume Canet) is a sous-chef in greater Paris with nowhere to go but down.
In town to apply for a job as chef at a Parisian restaurant, he runs into Nadia (Leila Bekhti), an extremely attractive Lebanese waitress who shares a cigarette with him outside the restaurant where she works, and agrees to go out on a date with him at the end of her shift.
They fall into bed that same night, and then quickly, too quickly perhaps, fall in love.
Yann moves in, despite the presence of Nadia's young son, Slimane (Slimane Khettabi), whose father abandoned him and Nadia some time back, and despite the fact that Nadia is in effect an Arab, who generally live on the margins of French society and are subject to widespread racism, particularly by the uneducated, right-wing, France-for-the-French social underclass, of which Yann is a classic example.
This undertone to the film is skipped over in the film, which focuses mainly on the relationship between the three main protagonists, as they try to make a better life for themselves in a hard, unyielding world.
The early part of their lives together seems so full of promise.
When one day they are on an idyllic trip in the country, we see how this family is beginning to constitute itself, that Slimane and Yann have a genuine relationship, and that Nadia has perhaps found herself a man who will still be around the day after tomorrow.
They happen upon an abandoned restaurant by a lake and Yann is seized by an idea: if no one will give me a job as a chef, why not open a restaurant?
Soon we are taken to the land of bank loans and revolving credit vultures and unyielding building code inspections, as Yann and Nadia risk everything they have to renovate the derelict building into something they can stake their future on.
It is not to be.
The ill-advised, ruinous, usurious revolving no-doc credit loans they took out (which are as common in France as payday loan operations are in the United States) soon destroy their dream, particularly once the unsmiling code inspectors require Yann to upgrade many of improvements he already made, on the cheap to stretch a thin capital budget, before they will allow the restaurant to open.
And so the downward spiral begins.
The world gets tighter, and grimmer, as they are crammed in a trailer adjoining the restaurant, and they start fighting like rats in a cage, and violence rears its ugly head, and now it is only a matter of time before the bank forecloses, and life, which seemed so promising just a few months earlier, shows just how hard a lesson it can teach.
Yann resists selling the place.
Although they can make a small profit if they do so immediately, he is unwilling to relinquish the dream that showed such promise.
And so it is also inevitable that the young family breaks up.
In a plot twist that strains credulity, Nadia, despite the fact that Yann has hit her, returns to him, and ask him to take care of Slimane while she is starting a new life in Canada for them both.
It does not feel like abandonment, but it is, for she soon disappears, and the Skype calls stop coming, and now Yann and Slimane are two orphans together, as Kahn films some of the most moving scenes of the film., living in a tighter world still, some grim walkup, in a shanty building outside of Paris, a fact the director referenced in the Q&A following a screening at TFF 12, saying one can find examples of the 4th world 10 minutes from the centre of the great city on the Seine.
To discuss what happens next would be to give away too much, but one thing is clear: this is an intelligent, beautifully-acted, well-written, and accomplished piece of film-making that is perfectly attuned to the unpleasant realities of the world many of us currently live in.
Kudos to Kahn for stepping outside his usual comfort zone to make this courageous, dark film, that is marred only by an incongruous Hollywood ending.Reviewed on: 27 Apr 2012
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