Love and prison in Les Mains Libres
by Fabien Lemercier
16/06/2010 - There has been strong critical support for Brigitte Sy’s debut feature Les Mains Libres [trailer] (“Free Hands”), which is being launched today by Chrysalis Films on 15 screens. Superbly acted by Ronit Elkabetz, Carlo Brandt and Noemie Lvovsky, this low-budget production (€1.64m) has been hailed for its subtlety, force and intensity in exploring the theme of transgressive love between a film director and a prisoner.
Co-scripted by Sy and Gaëlle Macé, the film centres on Barbara who is preparing a film written and performed by long-serving inmates in a prison in the Paris suburbs. But her love-at-first-sight encounter with Michel leads her to sidestep the law.
Sy commented: "The prison theme has often been explored in film, it’s a cinematic subject in that it focuses on a self-contained world, a distillation of humanity in a sense. But our imagination is often short-circuited by the dramatic images of American-style films". She continued: "My ambition was to restore a certain dignity to the quality of interpersonal relationships that develop in this hostile environment."
Sy rises to the challenge with this moving portrait of a woman and meticulous study of the prison world, in particular the circulation of messages outside the cells (letters, recorded messages, whispered secrets).
Four other French titles are hitting theatres, including Thomas Balmès’s documentary Babies (distributed by StudioCanal – $6.8m in box office takings in the United States since its release on May 7); Michaël Youn’s French/Canadian comedy Fatal [trailer] (Universal Pictures France); Marc Barrat’s Orpailleur [trailer] (“Gold Washer”, Rezo Films on 14 screens); and Richard Dindo’s Swiss/French documentary The Marsdreamers (Les Films d'Ici).
Other releases include Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore’s Baaria [trailer], presented in competition at Venice (see review – Quinta Communication on 50 screens); and Ludi Boeken’s German/French co-production Among Peasants [trailer] (Zootrope Films – 19 screens).
(Translated from French)