Review: Paper Flags
by Fabien Lemercier
- At the tender age of 19, Nathan Ambrosioni directs his first astonishingly mature feature film starring Guillaume Gouix, an ex-con in search of reintegration and a sibling bond
At a time when first feature films are often preceded by a long list of film courses (at one of the most prestigious schools out there, such as La Fémis, if possible, which sometimes serves to supplement previous studies), the appearance of a self-taught phenomenon such as Nathan Ambrosioni is particularly striking. The filmmaker was only 18 (now 19) when he shot Paper Flags, his first "official" feature film (he’s already made two "home movies"), presented in French premiere in the Perspectives section at the 9th La Roche-sur-Yon International Film Festival. But the topic of extreme youth, as seductive as it is, wouldn’t stand up on its own without the incredibly strong narrative control demonstrated by the filmmaker, who focuses on a brother’s rocky reunion with his sister in the context of a difficult reintegration after a long prison sentence.
“You're how old? 23? Have you forgotten who I am? (…) Don't you recognise me? It changes people (...) Why didn't you come to visit me?" When Vincent (Guillaume Gouix), 30, pops up with a shaved head on his sister’s doorstep after 12 years in prison, Charlie (Noémie Merlant) hugs him stiffly and dodges his questions, but nevertheless offers to put him up, aware that she's his only option ("I tried calling dad. He picked up, heard my voice and then hung up. Then the phone just seemed to ring forever"). But she sleeps next to a tear gas can, and even though she wants to help, she has no intention of talking to her brother ("you have to find work if you want to stay here, I don't have the means to support us both"). Charlie lives a few kilometres from Aix-en-Provence and works as a cashier but dreams of becoming a graphic artist ("I earn a pittance, I struggle to get by each month, to buy clothes, to put aside enough money for happier times'). The brother and sister will get to know each other, learning to live together, while Vincent, haunted by his time in prison and completely lacking any professional skills, looks for a job while trying to curb the enormous tension within him, which is far from easy and will inevitably damage his sister's burgeoning complicity...
Drawing on this very simple story – which Nathan Ambrosioni wrote after reading a news story – the film succeeds in tackling the subject of the reintegration of ex-prisoners into civilian life with great sensitivity ("you think I learned how to look like a normal, sane person while in prison?"), describing the discomfort and fear they instil in others, but also the disarray in which they find themselves. Paper Flags portrays the openness and limits of family affection and solidarity, playing intelligently on the suspense of Vincent's explosive violence (a perfect performance by Guillaume Gouix). Gestures, faces, hands in the light, shadows on the walls, small symbolic objects: the director (who edited the film himself) has an innate sense of image, which allows him to tackle a very harsh human topic in a relatively delicate manner, directing a first feature film with promising realism and surprising maturity for such a young filmmaker.
(Translated from French)
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