Eye For Film >> Movies >> Michou D'Auber (2007) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Meet Messaoud. His name, as he is proud to inform people, means 'the lucky one'. But he's unlucky enough to have a mother who is seriously ill in hospital and his father, working all day in a factory, is unable to look after him or his brother Abdel. Consequently they are taken into foster care. Gisèle is an experienced foster mother but feels unable to cope with the ramifications of introducing an Arab child to her soldier husband or the people in their village, embittered as they are by the Franco-Algerian War. So she bleaches Messaoud's hair and re-names him Michou.
The story of a small boy finding his way in a strange environment is a familiar one, and its success depends largely on the strength of the young actor. In this regard, Samy Seghir excels. And Michou D'Auber is much more besides. Though we scarcely see anything of the world beyond the village, it paints an intriguing picture of 1960s French politics. Racism is a serious problem but we also see something of its origins, the catastrophes of colonialism which have caused suffering on all sides. At the centre of this is Gérard Depardieu as Georges, the brusque but affectionate foster father who gradually comes to suspect the boy's origins but who simultaneously comes to think of him as his own son.
This is Depardieu's strongest performance for years, multifaceted and utterly convincing, dominating the film. But there's still room for the capable Nathalie Baye to make a powerful impact as Gisèle, the woman he cannot live without. Though their marriage is damaged and both are tempted by the prospect of adultery, there' a chemistry between them which Michou's presence enhances, a sense of hope which could enrich all their lives.
Through its politics and this portrait of marital disharmony, Michou D'Auber goes further to explore the surface morality, the more deeply held convictions and the actual behaviour of the villagers, revealing hypocrisy but doing so almost sympathetically, acknowledging the conflicts between good intentions and powerful emotions. Mathieu Amalric plays Jacques, the outsider, the schoolteacher bringing a different set of ethics to this often claustrophobic world and, by his very presence, offering the prospect of an intellectual freedom whose cost, in this context, he doesn't understand. Gisèle is entranced by him and gradually grows in confidence as a result. Georges is left trapped by a masculine ethic which forbids him to play the only cards he has, to say what he feels.
Multi-layered and always intriguing, Michou D'Auber nevertheless works best of all at the simplest level, letting the audience fall for its young hero just as his foster parents do. It's full of humour with a warm and witty script - a real delight to watch.Reviewed on: 16 Feb 2008