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TORONTO 2021 Platform

Review: Arthur Rambo


- With trademark subtlety, Laurent Cantet analyses the different sides to identity by broaching the subject of offensive outbursts on social media to tell the tale of a fall from grace

Review: Arthur Rambo
Rabah Naït Oufella (centre) in Arthur Rambo

"Do you actually realise what you’ve written? The messages coming out of this are disgusting!", "I’ve got more than 200,000 followers and no-one’s ever said anything", "It’s fashionable to be provocative", "You can’t defend the indefensible". In the parallel world of social media, which has become a nigh-on uncontrollable fuel for news stories and a space where noxiously brutal opinions collide - intoxicated as their owners are by potential anonymity - freedom of expression, the clashing of cultures and the spread of hate intertwine in an atmosphere of purest anarchy. It’s into the complex depths of this ultra-modern maelstrom that Laurent Cantet dives by way of Arthur Rambo [+see also:
interview: Laurent Cantet
film profile
(the 8th feature film to come courtesy of the French filmmaker and 2008 Palme d’Or winner), which was presented in the Platform competition of the 46th Toronto Film Festival (and is subsequently headed for the 69th San Sebastián Film Festival).

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This fascinating subject is examined meticulously by the director, who applies his usual intelligence to the task and takes great care not to take sides (which isn’t easy when dealing with themes where instinctive moral judgement is the natural reflex), introducing subtle variations but lending the ensemble an intense pace (set across 48 hours) in order to speak of the emblematic path taken by a young man moving upwards in society, whose Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde sides burst to the fore amidst a stormy context and its resulting wreckage. It’s a toxic, individual mirror which is suddenly revealed to the film’s protagonist, but it’s also the reflection of numerous real fractures running through French society.

Having been in bookshops for several weeks, with 30,000 copies on the shelves, 15,000 more to come and a reprint on the horizon, the novel entitled Débarquement [Disembarkation] written by Karim D. (a brilliant Rabah Naït Oufella) is the event of the moment, offering a new and pertinent look at the suburbs, immigration and integration. A media darling, the young man continues his rise towards true celebrity within the literary circles of Paris by way of his popular web TV programme. But just as the party, not to mention the cinema doors are opening up to him, a hurricane hits: hundreds of racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic, etc. tweets characterised by despicable black humour which he posted in previous years under the pseudonym of Arthur Rambo, float back up to the surface, causing countless, instantaneous chain reactions of condemnation, as well as accusations of political exploitation, from his fanbase as well as from the biggest national media organisations. Caught in the storm, Karim D. must answer to his editor, his Parisian friends, his suburban loved ones, his family and his admirers who feel betrayed, but, first and foremost, he must answer to himself and satisfy the key question: why?

Loosely based on the story of radio journalist Mehdi Meklat, the story crafted by Laurent Cantet, Fanny Burdino and Samuel Doux methodically explores the many ramifications of this Icarus’s dual personality, a character who burns his wings in the heat of notoriety and buzz, and as a result of his ambition to break down social boundaries. Maintaining an expert balance (which isn’t a given) between the clear condemnation of the content of these hateful tweets and a minimum of empathy for the main character, the film (directed with sober restraint and making highly effective use of embedded text and injections of sound) takes a very instructive look at a cathartic trajectory, which perfectly epitomises the chaotic nature of modern-day life, caught between the bulldozing call for unambiguity and bewildering proliferation.

Arthur Rambo is produced by Les Films de Pierre, in co-production with Memento Films Production and France 2 Cinéma. International sales are entrusted to Playtime.

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(Translated from French)

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