Willy 1er: the other, that misfit
by Fabien Lemercier
- This stunning feature film debut, directed by a young quartet of directors, which was discovered in Cannes’ ACID, will hit French cinemas on 19 October, thanks to UFO
There is a profound side to France, one that the nation’s cinema chooses to leave unexplored, preferring, instead, to paint pretty post-cards of the country This France is made up of regions of small, forgotten cities, culturally and economically desolate areas, where the only form of entertainment is a night at the corner bar/tobacco shop, where the youth ride around, revving their scooters’ engines to kill time, where people count each euro to ensure survival, for better or for worse, where laconicism, minimalism of social interaction and the complete lack of future prospects reign supreme.
It is in this non-glamorous France, on this occasion in Normandy, that the young quartet of filmmakers, made up of Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, Marielle Gautier and Hugo P Thomas, have decided to immerse themselves for their rather unique feature film debut, Willy 1er [+see also:
film profile]. A film that is both cruel and touching at the same time, verging on being a bizzaro-documentary, in the style of an off-the-wall tragi-comedy that blends Italy’s “grotesque” humour and English realism with a twist of fantasy (a few ghosts). This is certainly not a run-of-the-mill film, and it would be difficult to find another like it in a French cinema, with only the Kevern-Delépine duo as a sort of vague reference (albeit with a more scathing and libertarian tone) to this kind of portrait of “ordinary people”, one that neither idealises nor caricaturises them. Because, at the end of the day, with its crazy and somewhat depressive charm, Willy 1er is a delicate and poignant reflection on otherness. It looks at these individuals, who, compared to the film’s “hero”, are outliers, misfits, leading their lives on the outside, souls in solitary confinement, often misunderstood and ostracised by those around them, although they are no more than the somewhat deformed reflection of them, driving home the fact that the line between them and what is considered “normal” is finer than we think.
Such is the case for 50-year-old Willy (Daniel Vanner), whose monotonous, stay-at-home life (which is only broken up by his work for the municipal council, clearing dead leaves from the streets) is thrown upside down by his twin brother’s suicide. Acting on the advice from his carer (Noémie Lvovsky) and feeling as though his parents, whose house he has never left, have rejected him, this man, officially classed as “handicapped” – although, “sweetly simple” would be more accurate – decides to see more of the world, an adventure that will take him mere kilometres away. “To Caudebec. I’m going. A flat, I’ll find one. Friends, I’ll find some. And screw you!” An itinerary that the endearing character will try to complete no matter what obstacles may arise...
Cleverly dodging the pitfall of pessimism and pathos, occasionally flirting boldly and purposefully with a stupefying kitsch and skilfully playing with sudden changes in tone, Willy 1er is not lacking in humour, which it successfully creates, not at the expense of its character, but alongside him, along his gripping, falsely naive, and poignant journey of initiation into the world. A surprising, sensitive, inventive and sophisticated feature film debut, in spite of its “cheap” appearance, with masterful direction and blessed with high-quality cinematography (captured by Thomas Balmès), that was produced by Baxter Films and Les Films Velvet and that UFO will distribute in France on 19 October.
(Translated from French)
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