Thursday, January 15, 2015

MyFFF ’15: A Place on Earth

Boozy and battling depression, photographer Antoine Dumas can only deal with the world through the lens of his camera—and even then he has a rough time of it. Unfortunately, he is not the most damaged character in Fabienne Godet’s A Place on Earth (trailer here), which screens online as part of the 2015 My French Film Festival starting tomorrow.

Something caused the promising Dumas to nosedive personally and professionally, but he is not talking about it. He has very little human interaction except for Matéo, the androgynous son of a single-mother neighbor, who apparently works twenty-three hours a day, eight days a week as a scullery maid in Versailles, or something like that. Whatever, she is not around much, but mopey Dumas is.

Elena Morin, Dumas’s neighbor across the courtyard also spends a lot of time in her flat, which is handy since Dumas has something of an obsession going for her, triggered by her intense renditions of Chopin. One night he spies her flirting with the edge of the roof, where she will indeed take the suicidal plunge. “Fortunately,” Dumas notifies the paramedics in time to save her, but Morin is not exactly brimming with gratitude. Nevertheless, a strange ambiguous romance starts to blossom between them during her rehabilitation process.

Can two wounded souls finally find love together? Hell no, they can’t. The only question is just where will their relationship run off the rails and how messy will the train wreck be? At least Godet is realistic about the crushing weight of all their psychological baggage. However, she constantly changes the film’s emotional tone on a dime, veering from plucky rom-com to Lifetime movie melodrama to art house existential angst and back again with little transitional warning.

Being one of the best in the business, Benoît Poelvoorde manages to keep up with each mood shift rather well. He can clearly do world-weariness like a champ, but he also nicely suggests Dumas’s more complicated repressed feelings. Greek actress Ariane Labed is reasonably engaging as the quietly unstable Morin, as well. On the other hand, everything involving Matéo the moppet and Morin’s heroin-addicted friend Margot should have been more thoroughly work-shopped prior to production, because they just clunk on-screen.

The photography of Michael Ackerman, doubling for Dumas’s work, is arguably the real star of the film, giving Place greater weight and resonance than it would otherwise have. Overall, it is not a complete cinematic dead-loss, but it is definitely an inconsistent, start-and-stop affair. If you have a taste for middlebrow tragedy, A Place on Earth stream-screens as part of this year’s MyFFF, from Friday (1/16) to February 16th.

Frankly, it is part of a rather odd slate, including the visually dazzling but hollow-on-the-inside The Strange Color of Your Bodies Tears and the raucously funny, highly recommended A Town Called Panic—the Christmas Log. Those hoping to reconnect with French cinema for the sake of solidarity in the wake of the Islamist terrorist attacks would be better advised to check out the considerably more satisfying Special Forces and The Assault instead.