Patchwork Family: “Everyone can make a mistake”
by Fabien Lemercier
- Pascal Rabaté has made a sensitive, bittersweet comedy that plunges to the heart of crisis-riddled provincial France. A touching tale carried by the excellent Sami Bouajila
Creating your own style in the highly standardised comedy genre is far from easy, especially when you’re trying not to highlight the results. Originally coming from the world of comics, Pascal Rabaté, who unveiled Patchwork Family [+see also:
film profile] in competition yesterday at the 49th Karlovy Vary Festival, has managed to express this individual voice of his, casting an affectionate glance at some simple characters who are grappling with the decisions of day-to-day existence: agreeing to open up to others, whether or not to be honest, loving and being loved, fitting into a community and so on. The film employs a delicate psychological approach coupled with a form of direction that takes a step back from realism so as to glide gently towards a fable, but without actually veering off into caricature territory, nor neglecting to inject some elements of reflection on the social context and modern life in small-town, provincial France.
The story transports us to modern-day Montauban, at the beginning of the summer. Christian (the fantastic Sami Bouajila), a forty-something divorcee, works as a termite detector and exterminator, not shying away from any illicit means necessary (breach of trust and forced sale, for example) to dupe the owners of the houses he inspects. His emotional life is very much in tune with his cynicism, apart from with Vanessa, his teenage daughter whom he adores and has joint custody of. It is precisely through her and her majorette practices that he meets Christine (Isabelle Carré), a beautician who is also a single mother and pregnant with her second child. And it’s also to make Vanessa happy that he agrees to bolster the town’s team as it prepares for the summer triathlon, a televised event pitting several towns against each other as they attempt to qualify for the grand final. These two occurrences will turn his solitary and self-centred life upside down, but the shadows of his past dishonesty hang heavy over these new horizons...
Faithfully portraying working-class France, with its gyms bringing together parents and children, and its residential areas where everyone keeps a close eye on when their neighbours take their bins out, Pascal Rabaté and his co-screenwriter Antoine Pinson toy with the little quirks of being human in this world of “losers” in order to raise a few smiles, to the point where they become endearing – and even quite moving. Nevertheless, there is not a shred of naïve optimism in this tale of redemption where everyone tries once again to hook up with their family or with a surrogate family (be it the team, the neighbours or the town). And while the prevailing social climate is tinged with depression (“How miserable! They’re shutting down the factories, the schools, the hospitals”), Patchwork Family is completely devoid of sentimentality owing to the fact that it is peppered with some welcome slapstick moments and disguises its serious sentiments beneath a slightly dreamlike visual shroud thanks to the very fine work done on the film's colours.
With this third feature, following his Wandering Streams [+see also:
film profile] and Holidays by the Sea [+see also:
interview: Denis Delcampe
interview: Pascal Rabaté
film profile] (which won him the Best Director Award at Karlovy Vary in 2011), Pascal Rabaté has secured his highly original position in the French cinema landscape, continuing to strike a chord with his particular brand of work and to consolidate his hand-carved niche, thus following in the footsteps of Pierre Etaix and Finland’s Aki Kaurismäki. Produced by Loin derrière l’Oural together with German outfit Belle Epoque Film, Patchwork Family is sold internationally by Films Boutique and will be distributed in French theatres on Wednesday 9 July by Ad Vitam.
(Translated from French)