Robust

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Robust
"There's a subtlety to all this that speaks well of Meyer's thoughtfulness - she never goes for easy options such as having one character be prejudiced against the other, instead simply allowing a respectful attitude to grow into an increasingly strengthening bond."

The clues are all there in the title. Robust can mean "strong and healthy" but it can also mean "uncompromising", "resilient" or "rich in flavour". All these things apply to the characters in Constance Meyer's soulfully acted debut, which is focused not on big movements of plot but on the smaller shifting gears of relationships and which is well worth catching at the upcoming French Film Festival UK.

Robust is definitely an apt word for Gérard Depardieu, who is a solid physical presence in any frame, although part of his trick as an actor has always been to bring his characters a softness and vulnerability that seems at odds with his bulk. Here, he plays a role that was clearly written with at least some of his own personal history in mind. Ageing actor Georges, is not a replica of Depardieu but he is imbued with a certain Depardieuness - from a curmudgeonliness with directors to a hatred of Air France (a nod to Depardieu's very public urination on one of the company's planes back in 2011).

Copy picture

Depardieu is matched in stature and in the nuanced acting stakes by Déborah Lukumuena, who British audiences might recognise from 2016's Divines (currently available on Netflix). She plays Aïssa, a security guard who spends her off-hours competing in wrestling contests, occasionally hooking up for a good time with her colleague Eddy (Lucas Mortier), and who is assigned to babysit Georges. She and Georges are, of course, the oddest of couples, with Aïssa acting as a sort of easygoing sponge for Georges unpredictable energy.

There's a subtlety to all this that speaks well of Meyer's thoughtfulness - she never goes for easy options such as having one character be prejudiced against the other, instead simply allowing a respectful attitude to grow into an increasingly strengthening bond.

Perhaps the tank full of angler-type fish with little lights on their heads is a little heavy handed in imagery terms, but they nonetheless add a certain ethereal aspect to a film that is as much about feelings as the physical. Although Aïssa finds George strange, as she reports to her friend Cosmina (Megan Northam), she does little more than raise an eyebrow at his outbursts. Rather than this leading to her fading out of scenes in the wake of Depardieu's "bigness", Meyer and Lukumuena find ways of showing this sort of calmness holds a power of its own. Like Depardieu, Lukumuena may not be conventional in terms of her look, but she's got just as much star power as he has in front of the camera, the very act of giving less in terms of showiness, leading us to want to see more.

Meyer and her co-writer Marcia Romano also have an ear for the natural cadence of conversation and an ability to let words gather weight - so that a script we hear Georges repeatedly practising with Aïssa gently gathers increasing significance with each repetition. Like the wrestling matches we glimpse through the film, this is a finely poised piece of action, where strength is found in unexpected moments and the outcome remains uncertain until it arrives.

Reviewed on: 04 Nov 2021
Share this with others on...
An actor forges and unlikely friendship with the woman assigned to provide him with security.

Festivals:

French 2021

Search database: