Saturday, March 03, 2012

French Rendezvous ’12: Pater

The French president and his prospective prime minister are moonlighting as their own videographers. They will probably be the only French workers who still have jobs if their ideologically-driven economic plans are passed. At least they enjoy talking about it in Alain Cavalier’s Pater (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema.

Alain Cavalier and Vincent Lindon play themselves playing a crafty old president and the socialist industrialist he recruits as his heir apparent. The president is about to announce a major initiative to cap salaries nationally at fifteen times the minimum wage. His new PM is the perfect man to sell it, because he voluntarily set a ten-fold ceiling at his own factory. In fact, the preference for ten versus fifteen will become a major source of tension between the soon to become rivals. Yet, they can still find time to discuss clothes and savor some truffles together.

Evidently, the best case the leading lights of French cinema can make for socialism is the perceived appeal of symmetry. We have a minimum wage, so why not a maximum they frequently argue. The potential impact on French capital formation worries them not. Still, they might as well put their economy on ice. With Germany bailing out every EU country that comes calling, there is no sense in any European working a real job.

The elegant luxury of Lindon and Cavalier’s world might be interpreted as an ironic commentary on their limousine socialism, but it is not clear Pater is that self-aware. Rather, it appears more interested in playing “are-we-in-character-or-are-we-not” games with viewers. Still, Lindon and Cavalier are clearly comfortable playing off each other, showing flashes of wit here and there.

While their story of the protégé challenging his political mentor should have great dramatic potential, the film’s largely two-handed improvisational format is unable to flesh out the meat on its bare bones. Indeed, Pater is more like a theater piece in need of a rigorous work-shopping than a fully conceived and realized film.

In a way, Pater is like the French arthouse version of the movies Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise made together, in which everyone works very hard trying to show the audience what a good time everyone had making the picture. Rather slight but quite self-satisfied, Pater can be safely skipped at this year’s Rendezvous with French Cinema. For those looking for a quick fix of smug French in-jokes, it screens tonight (3/3) at BAM and tomorrow (3/4) at the Walter Reade Theater.