Sunday, March 03, 2024

French Rendez-Vous ’24: The Temple Woods Gang

If a Saudi prince is willing to (allegedly?) assassinate a prominent journalist like Jamal Khashoggi, what do think the royal family might do to punish a working-class gang from a French housing complex? The poor knuckleheads do not realize the implications of stealing from the royal family until it is too late in director-screenwriter Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche’s The Temple Woods Gang, which screens during this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

Bebe’s gang are small-time criminals, but they are not such bad guys. In fact, Monsieur Pons rather likes his lunkheaded fellow residents of the Temple Woods project. They were always polite to his recently deceased mother and despite some good-natured ribbing, always show respect to the veteran. Yes, Pons served in Africa, as a sniper—a fact that might be significant later.

While Pons mourns his mother, Bebe’s crew plans and successfully executes a hold-up of the prince’s courier. They were interested in the suitcases full of cash, but the prince is more worried about the cache of sensitive documents. In fact, he is so offended by their disrespect, he has his fixer call in Jim, the family enforcer, to teach them a lesson. Frankly, the blokes do not even notice the papers until things get ugly and brutal. (If there is one lesson to draw from
Temple Woods it is if you ever find yourself unexpectedly holding secret Saudi documents, head directly to the Israeli embassy, which these guys never think to do.)

Temple Woods
is not really a heist or a payback movie. Instead, it is an extremely moody exploration of urban angst and violence. Ameur-Zaimeche de-emphasizes action, quickly staging the carjacking, but devoting considerably more time to two musically-focused scenes. There is method to the madness, because real-life vocalist Annkrist’s rendition of her song “La beaute du jour” during the funeral for Mother Pons is arrestingly beautiful.  Watching the prince get down to an Algerian Rai DJ is far less potent.

In fact, Annkrist might just qualify as the star of
Temple Woods, but Regis Laroche is memorably both humane and steely as the sad, middle-aged Pons. Although played by thesps with widely varying degrees of professional experience, the Temple Woods guys all look and sound like real knock-around street toughs.

Veteran character actor Slimane Dazi (
Rengaine and The Angel) is eerily soulless as Jim, while Lucius Barre (primarily known to the film world as a publicist) is coolly smug as the prince’s consiglieri (that would be an apt description of his role, given the way Ameur-Zaimeche presents the Saudi royal family as Mafia-like organization).

There are slow-burns and then there is
The Temple Woods Gang. If you can adjust to such an unconventional pacing for a crime drama, the care with which Ameur-Zaimeche crafts each scene is quite impressive. Recommended for patrons auteurist French cinema, The Temple Hill Gang screens Wednesday and Thursday (3/6 & 3/7) as part of this year’s French Rendez-Vous.