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ROME FILM FESTIVAL Extra / France

Podalydès’ latest interweaves weaves whirlwind ensemble cast

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An office, a public garden, a DIY mega-store: three microcosms populated by characters and stories that brush up against one another as in a whirlwind carillon. The film is Park Benches [+see also:
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, the fifth feature film by France’s Bruno Podalydès (1999 César winner for Best Debut Film for Only God Sees Me), presented in the Extra section of the Rome Film Festival.

The film begins in the subway, where a busker sings Georges Brassens’ "Les Amoureux des Bancs Publics", evoking lovebirds kissing on park benches. Arriving in her office, Lucie (Florence Muller), between games of Pacman, sees a strange banner hanging in the window of the building in front, with the words “man alone”. Is it a cry for help? An advertising gimmick? A pick-up line?

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That same day, in a park in the Versailles, men, women, couples, children and couples come and go before the camera, fighting, playing, chatting. Later, we see the same kind of milling around in the Brico-dream store, this time between clients and salespeople.

The characters of the three stories – an ensemble by over 30 star names, including the director, his brother Denis Podalydès, Emmanuelle Devos, Chiara Mastroianni, Mathieu Amalric and Catherine Deneuve – brush past and sometimes even meet one another. The humour is subtle and at times uncomfortable, like the scene in which Solange (the ironic Josiane Balasko), celebrating her upcoming retirement with her office co-workers, seals her leave-taking (or perhaps liberation) with a long, French kiss with the cleaning man, in front of her embarrassed co-workers.

The camera’s movements are also interesting, especially in the park sequence, where it slides from one character to another. But the story, which begins as a mystery, gets lost in a succession of sketches. And the theme of the carillon is repeated in the rotating end credits, at the end of a film that, just like a carillon, gives the impression of spinning emptily.

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(Translated from Italian)

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