Sunday, January 13, 2019

First Look ’19: Carwash

Imagine O. Henry as realized by Éric Rohmer. Wilfrid, a small-time carwash chain owner, is being held captive by Thomas and Francis, two even smaller-time criminals—and he is basically okay with it. After all, there is no need to get worked up when you are enjoying a leisurely summer in Claude Schmitz’s Carwash (trailer here), which screens during this year’s First Look at MoMI.

It really is all about chump change. To repay a debt to their boss, the two lowlife crooks agree to abduct Wilfrid, forcing him to give up the coins generated by his carwashes everyday (12 Euros for a standard cleaning). Much to their relief, the minor carwash mogul is quite cooperative and civilized. In fact, he rather seems to enjoy the company. Soon, a sort of reverse Stockholm Syndrome sets in. The two bumbling thugs start drinking and singing late into the night with the ostensive captive. They even invite their girlfriends to enjoy a country getaway.

The Rohmer vibe in Carwash is so prominent, it must be deliberate. There is a similar, low-fi look, sparingly punctuated by a soundtrack of occasional snippets of classical and cheesy pop music. It is heavy on dialogue and light on dramatic plot points, but Carwash agreeably evokes the heat and smells of summer in the countryside.

The largely unknown cast playing their namesakes all blend in with Schmitz’s ultra-natural aesthetic. They definitely seem to be the awkward, grungy characters they play. Francis Soetens is roguishly charming, in a Belgian, mullet-sporting kind of way, as the older captor. Thomas Depas is reserved and schlubbily sad as his younger, comparatively more rational accomplice. Yet, Wilfrid Ameuille overshadows everyone as the sly, deceptively silly carwash owner.

This is a talky film that clocks in just a whisker under an hour, but sometimes you find yourself in the mood for something modest and pleasant. It is also very French. If you like Rohmer, you will flip for Carwash. Recommended for Francophiles in the mood for a quick, low-stress viewing experience, Carwash screens this coming Saturday (1/19) as part of First Look at MoMI.