Wednesday, March 07, 2012

French Rendezvous ’12: Headwinds

Paul Anderen is a writer, so he must be impossible to live with. His wife Sarah seemed to think so. After a particularly spiteful argument, she might have walked out on him and their two children. While her fate remains a mystery, Anderen will have to become the responsible parent he never was in Jalil Lespert’s Headwinds (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema in New York.

Though initially a suspect, Anderen was eventually cleared of any involvement in her disappearance. That provides him little closure, but allows him to move on with his life, at least to extent. Returning to the old family cottage in the coastal city of Saint Malo, Anderen accepts a job with his more dutiful brother Alex. He still has issues, but he begins to make the odd human connection here and there. However, when he befriends one of the laborers who helped move him in, he finds himself once again under police suspicion when the man kidnaps his own son as part of a custody dispute.

Headwinds is sort of like a French version of The Descendants without the entitled sense of Noblesse oblige. It also has the hint of a crime drama sprinkled in here and there, but the focus falls squarely on Anderen and his steadily developing parental chops.

The biggest star in Headwinds disappears after the first ten minutes, but one can easily believe a guy like Anderen would have a hard time getting over the apparent loss of Audrey Tautou. As the bereft husband who will not allow himself to grieve, Benoît Magimel is convincingly human in a myriad of insecure and self-defeating ways. Yet, he also has some rather brutally honest confrontations with Antoine Duléry, quite nicely nuanced as his resentful older brother. The kids are just alright. Descendants probably has the advantage over Headwinds on that score. However, Isabelle Carré adds an intriguingly compassionate note as Josée Combe, the local copper.

Arguably, Headwinds does not hold a lot of surprises in store for viewers, except its willingness to face every difficult scene head-on, without copping out. It is melodrama, but pretty good melodrama. Again, if Alexander Payne’s film had the perfect level of sentimentality for you, then by all means check out Headwinds. It screens as a selection of Rendezvous with French Cinema tomorrow and Friday (3/8 & 3/9) at the Walter Reade Theater.