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TORONTO 2018 Contemporary World Cinema

Review: Ulysses & Mona

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- TORONTO 2018: Sébastien Betbeder's dark comedy portrays the inner struggle between misanthropy and altruism which plays out in a grumpy artist’s stone heart when faced with a new disciple

Review: Ulysses & Mona
Eric Cantona and Manal Issa in Ulysses & Mona

Having previously presented Nights with Theodore [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
at the Toronto Film Festival in 2012, French director Sébastien Betbeder is making a return to the great Canadian festival for the world premiere of his new black comedy, Ulysses & Mona. Battling it out in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the competition, the film follows the development of a surprising friendship, forged between two individuals with diametrically opposed outlooks on life: a retired artist who has lost all faith in art and human beings, played by Éric Cantona (You and the Night [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, The Salvation [+see also:
trailer
interview: Kristian Levring
film profile
]
, Looking for Eric [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Cannes 2009
Ken Loach

interview: Steve Evets - actor
film profile
]
), and Mona, a cheerful Fine Arts student, courtesy of Manal Issa (Parisienne [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Nocturama [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Bertrand Bonello
film profile
]
), who is desperate to become Ulysses’ personal assistant in a bid to convince him to return to the world of artistic creation which he has long since abandoned.

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Ultimately, it’s the young woman who orchestrates their meeting. Blindly obsessed with the idea of getting to know Ulysses, Mona slips into his residence on a number of occasions but is evicted from the premises each time. One day, however, on her umpteenth invasion of his home, Mona catches her idol unawares on his private tennis court. Following a tirade of not entirely unjustified reprimands, Ulysses finally accepts to hire Mona as his assistant.

Ulysses & Mona is comprised of a series of tragi-comic situations which express the inner struggle playing out in this bad-tempered artist’s stone heart between misanthropy and altruism. But beneath the surface of this dark comedy, there lies an unexpected and life-affirming message on the possibility of second chances and the power of friendship, as the companionship of Ulysses’ new disciple will, at long last, allow this man - who once abandoned his wife and child to live an isolated life away from the rest of the world - to come to terms with his past and to live his life fully in the present.

Betbeder succeeds in infusing the story with an ironic humour, which is testimony to his skilful direction of the cast, particularly remarkable in the case of Eric Cantona. The former sportsman is especially brilliant when playing on the insensitivity of his character, his laugh-out-loud social clumsiness triggered by mere contact with other human beings.

Ulysses & Mona is produced by French firm Envie de Tempête Productions, while international film sales are managed by Cercamon (United Arab Emirates).

(Translated from Spanish)

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