Review: Return to Bollene
by Fabien Lemercier
- Producer Saïd Hamich directs an intimate, dry and exciting debut feature about identity, family and social roots
Some films are immediately self-evident, little germs of truth in a cinematic landscape where formatting and technique can often take the colour out of a film, as well intentioned as it may be. And when authentic feelings are brought together in a very interesting and well-controlled form, without frills and pretension, it's obviously even better. Return to Bollene [+see also:
film profile] – the directorial debut by producer Saïd Hamich (who has also been involved as a delegate or executive on Sofia [+see also:
interview: Meryem Benm'Barek
film profile], Much Loved [+see also:
film profile], Volubilis [+see also:
interview: Faouzi Bensaïdi
film profile], Hope [+see also:
interview: Boris Lojkine
film profile] and Northern Wind [+see also:
interview: Walid Mattar
film profile]) – sets itself apart instantly, accurately painting the portrait of a man, family, social environment, city, and indirectly a country, France – which offers very few evolutionary prospects to its underclass resulting from immigration – with remarkable restraint. A sensitive portrait, in which intimate wounds, regrets, past ghosts, contradictions and grey areas are certainly not lacking, creating a situation that is difficult to escape from, even if one had chosen to flee to more hospitable territories.
"I don’t want to be a Bollene Arab." For Nassim (Anas El Baz), returning to visit his family in his hometown in the South-East of France is not particularly pleasant. The thirty-year-old has long rejected the disinherited city of his childhood, as well as his family’s various means of financial survival, doors closed due to meritocracy, conflicts with his father and even his own Muslim culture. Having climbed the social ladder while working in Abu Dhabi, he comes back to visit Bollene after four years of absence with his American fiancée Elisabeth (Kate Colebrook). A reunion which delights his loving mother (Jamila Charik), his friendly brother Mouss (Saïd Benchnafa) and his sisters Hajjar (Bénédicte-Lala Ernoult) and Asma (Lamia Menioui), but that the trilingual graduate (he speaks French, English and Arabic) has a lot of trouble enjoying, refusing to see his father ("I don’t want to see him and I have nothing to say to him") and distancing himself from his family's customs (he refuses to eat from the same plate, ordering wine at the restaurant, etc.). However, for one of his old neighbourhood friends – chosen as a schizophrenic specimen – the past gradually begins to surface in a small impoverished town (now lead by the far-right, including a formerly communist teacher-mentor), where a quiet storm of melancholy, pain, agonising memories, roots and resentment is slowly brewing.
Excellently written by Saïd Hamich himself, Return to Bollene manages to say and suggest a lot in just a few sequences and conversations, without ever forcing the unnatural. An art of conciseness and a talent for creating atmospheres is also at work in this film thanks to the numerous and eloquent driving scenes, in which we get to discover the city. Peeling away the layers of his subject like an onion, both patiently and effectively, without ever dramatising reality, but moving very fluidly towards the heart of his story, the director is able to create – with reserved (and nevertheless very certain) talent – all the dimensions of a high-quality political and social cinema, demonstrating a potential for directing that we hope will continue to develop alongside his work as a producer.
(Translated from French)
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