by Fabien Lemercier
- Veteran director Alain Cavalier has made an astonishing political film where truth and fiction merge. A cinematic experiment unveiled in competition at the Cannes Film Festival 2011.
Following in the footsteps of his latest experiments (Le Filmeur [+see also:
film profile] and Irene [+see also:
film profile]), Alain Cavalier has unveiled Pater [+see also:
interview: Alain Cavalier
film profile] in Competition at Cannes.
The director has, however, widened his introspective and intimate scope straddling the line between fiction and documentary, by inviting actor Vincent Lindon into his world for some role playing. Not only do Cavalier and Lindon film themselves and the process of making the film, holding in turn or together small digital cameras, sometimes placed on their feet in order to fit two characters into the frame, they also act in purely fictionarly scenes, as President of the Republic (Cavalier) and Prime Minister (Lindon).
Although far-fetched and highly complex on paper, the merry hypothesis unfolds simply and with such a spirit of freedom that we often don’t know when the two scoundrels are acting or being themselves. Fascinating, disconcerting, sometimes irritating and often funny, Pater adds to Cavalier’s thoughts on creativity, and is also an opportunity to convey a political message on the need for better distribution of wealth. The president and his new prime minister seek “to wake everyone up a little” with a law that would regulate the gap between the lowest and highest salaries in the country. This gap is currently 1/50, and our two pretend politicians want to set it at 1/10 or 1/15.
Other plans include preventing people from absconding the country with their fortune, punishing them by making them pay it to the Legion of Honour and banning them from the national palaces, or else condemning every elected voter to the maximum sentence even if it is only for a euro.
The film also looks at the speechwriting process, in particular for the next presidential campaign in which the two will be rival – i.e., the son stabbing the father in the back in the best tradition. The film covers many serious and absurd debates, both real and imaginary, edited with the greatest care in Cavalier’s purist hallmark style.
Interspersed with short off-camera comments from the director, the Pater experiment shamelessly engages in "name dropping", for better (Inès de La Fressange) and for worse (the shop windows of Zadig and Voltaire). There are scenes of the sounds of freshly-baked crackling, discussions on ties and the price of clothes and doping in sport (sprinter Usain Bolt is hauled over the coals), forest picnics with mock bodyguards, as well as scenes in which Cavalier and Lindon confuse each other with their respective opinions of the president and the prime minister.
Always on the verge of losing its equilibrium and of (real or fake) improvisation, the great challenge that is Pater seems a change of approach for a director who deliberately works on the margins, and yet goes to the heart of the filmmaking process. These constant to and fros between the “backstage” and “onstage”, whilst intellectually stimulating and entertaining, do not however have the same emotional power as Irene, and are only a partially successful experiment in terms of rhythm. This, however, takes nothing away from the great talent of Cavalier the experimenter and his excellent partner Lindon.
(Translated from French)
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