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Review: L'enfant du paradis


- Salim Kechiouche delivers an intense and very well realised low-budget debut feature as director, in which he also beautifully plays the lead character

Review: L'enfant du paradis
Salim Kechiouche and Nora Arnezeder in L'enfant du paradis

"You’re not a good influence. I don’t trust you", "Everyone is worried about you, you’ll never change… You can’t stop lying", "it’s always me asking the questions, you never respond, you act the clown." What could Yazid, an almost 40-years-old famous actor from a working-class neighbourhood, have possibly done to create so much doubt in the people around him, from his ex-wife and his new girlfriend, to his sister? Salim Kechiouche (a frequent stand-out in supporting roles, who has worked several times with Kechiche, notably in Mektoub, My Love [+see also:
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, since first appearing at 27 in Gaël Morel’s Full Speed) paints a very sharp portrait in his first film as director, L'enfant du paradis (launched in French cinemas tomorrow by La Vingt-Cinquième Heure Distribution). In this striking film, shot with an economy of means akin to guerilla filmmaking, the filmmaker showcases all his charisma and his talents as an actor. 

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"It’s a sensitive subject." At first glance, it seems things couldn’t be better for Yazid who, for a year, has been enjoying a playful and happy relationship with Garance (Nora Arnezeder), an actress. It’s true that his relationship with his ex-wife (Naidra Ayadi) is extremely tense when it comes to respecting the agreed-upon schedule for picking up Hassan (Hassane Alili), his 16-year-old son, on the weekend, and an unfriendly atmosphere also reigns with old acquaintances outside of the buildings in the working-class neighbourhood of his childhood, where his grandmother still lives. But Yazid has work, a tour, and most importantly, as we soon realise, he is trying to reconstruct himself. Underneath his carefree exuberance is a man deeply affected by his family history and a drug addict, now clean for only six months. In reality, Yazid is walking on a tightrope… 

In only 72 minutes and despite the constraints of his very small budget, L'enfant du paradis manages to leave a mark in following its very endearing protagonist, surrounded by other great actors (Pascale Arbillot, Zinedine Soualem, Kévin Mischel, Karimouche, Salif Cissé). Shot in close-ups (with Jérémie Attard as director of photography), the film makes its way like a lightning bolt, intercut with scenes that could in an instant turn explosive. The Paris nightlife, the atmosphere in the poorer neighbourhoods and the complex position of people who move from one social class to another, the karma of family connections and of the Algerian past (featuring the director’s own archival videos): bringing to its sharp psychological portrait a touch of genre filmmaking as it is seen in American independent cinema, all of it enveloped by Amine Bouhafa’s very beautiful score, Salim Kechiouche makes very promising first steps as a director, and shows in a striking manner that he is more than ready to appear in leading roles. The power of a story set among fatalistic shadows but where characters rise against melancholy should inspire French financiers to take greater interest in anti-heroes who, like Rocky, are in fact anything but. 

L'enfant du paradis was produced by K-Rec Films.

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(Translated from French)

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