Bus Palladium

Bus Palladium

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

On tour with the boys in the band: sex, drugs, rock n' roll, bust-ups and make-ups, glamour balanced with bathos. Bus Palladium tells us a story we've all heard before. It's schtick is that this band, despite its ego issues and grand ambitions, has only just formed - its boys are trying to capture, from the outset, the legend they believe they will become. Like them, it's reinventing the wheel, but it benefits from some intermittently charming performances and a well-judged mix of comedy and tragedy. It's playful, often understated, and doesn't try to be something it's not. This means that, by and large, it gets away with the clichés, and the sense that everything is predetermined lends it a Greek-style pathos.

For those who have spent time in this sort of community, the film's trappings are cosily familiar. Drinking binges, flirtation and fun mix with the realities of making ends meet in service jobs and staying at people's mums' houses, rehearsing in noisy warehouses and spending too much time on buses. Those who are outsiders will find an easy way in through the language of film, though Bus Palladium wisely avoids too many direct knowing references. Its overall atmosphere is naturalistic, more reminiscent of Dogs In Space than Sid And Nancy, and with only a hint of This Is Spinal Tap.

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It centres, of course, on the relationship between singer and guitarist Manu (Arthur Dupont) and Lucas (Marc-André Grondin), with the intense friendship complicated by rivalry and a Brothers Of The Head style undercurrent of homoeroticism rerouted into falling for the same girl (the excellent Elisa Sednaoui). Luc is the quiet, thoughtful one with whom we are invited to identify. Manu is the extrovert, seemingly desperate for attention, at other times plunged into dark bouts of despair. Grondin is the better actor, but they're both convincing enough in what are, ultimately, not very challenging roles.

Where Bus Palladium really scores is in its insight into the sexual culture surrounding this sort of fame. Easy access to girls is a big motivating factor for the boys as they start out, but it's clear that this doesn't make them invulnerable to falling in love; and, of course, the only women able to make that kind of impression are those with egos as big as their own. For Manu and Luc this quickly leads to trouble, though other characters seem to get away with it and there's a affectionately styled romance between the drummer and an older record company executive.

What's clear is that, in seeking opportunities for exploitation, the band place themselves in a position to be exploited for more than just their musical talent. And when it comes to music, nobody is inappropriately generous. They won't blow you away. They're not the greatest thing ever. The story is more interesting for this - for its recognition that there are a lot more where they come from, and that their success or failure (as a band and as human beings) must come down to more than how they strut their stuff onstage.

Beautifully photographed and certainly atmospheric, Bus Palladium is a charming, witty little film that does just enough to endear itself but isn't destined to be superstar material. Its appeal is in its representation of the little guys, and as such it will speak to many struggling bands out there, the ones who become local heroes gigging in pubs, the ones who give so much pleasure without ultimately getting very much in return. It's only rock n' roll.

Reviewed on: 10 Dec 2010
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A group of rockers try to make it big, learning life lessons along the way.
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French 2010

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