Dir/scr: Santiago Amigorena. Fr-It. 2006. 110mins.
After some 30 odd scripts for French cinema and fournovels of his own, Argentinian writer Santiago Amigorena has finally movedbehind the camera and treated himself to a peach of a screenplay. A smartly writtenspy yarn built around 9/11, A Few Days InSeptember has the look of an international intrigue escapade, with a stronganti-American flavour that may not be received lightly in the US but which hasa good chance of being highly appreciated elsewhere.
The thriller - whichfeatures a strong presence from Juliette Binoche as a retired secret agent helpingout an old friend and a maverick performance from John Turturro as an assassindiscussing his actions over the phone with his shrink - never pretends to beanything realistic. But its final conclusions are not necessarily thatimaginary.
Were it not for its producer,Paolo Branco, sitting on the jury, then one suspects that A Few Days In September would have deservedly screened in, ratherthan out of, competition at Venice. Chances are it will reach many morefestivals (it next enjoys an appearance at Toronto); even if spurned by the NewWorld market, it is safe to assume that the Old one will regard it favourably,making A Few Days In September one ofthe more profitable films for sales company Gemini this year.
The film opens on Sept 1,2001 with Irene (Juliette Binoche), a former super-spy, retired by the Frenchto a desk job teaching her art to a new generation. She is approached by Elliot(Nick Nolte), a comrade in arms from the old days, who asks her to arrange ameeting between himself and his grown-up children; daughter Orlando (SaraForestier), who lives with her grandmother on a French farm, and son David (TomRiley), who is supposed to fly in from America.
The meeting is scheduled totake place in a Parisian hotel, but before then William Pound (John Turturro),a madcap killer with a penchant for anything from Shakespeare to poetry toopera, intervenes. He is obviously looking for Elliot, as are two shadyinternational bankers who claim that he is their consultant on current events.
But the elusive Elliot, akind of latter day Harry Lime who does not actually make an appearance beforethe last reel, is too experienced to be caught out so early on in the game. Hetakes off on his own, and the meeting is postponed for a few days and movedfrom Paris to Venice. It allows just enough time for Irene, Orlando and Davidto travel together across Europe, establishing an unusual kind of romantic trioand engaging in some witty lines of dialogue.
Trying to unveil the reasonbehind Elliot's sudden urge to see his offspring, Irene discovers that he hasgone into business on his own. As the constant onscreen display of the datesuggests - and the plot confirms - the advice he has passed to the bankers islinked to the fact that more people than al-Qaeda know about the impendingattack on America.
Amigorena may not yet have adistinct visual style of his own but he certainly knows how to implement thelessons he has learned from watching similar fare.
Atmospheric camerawork andfast cutting generate suspense and push the plot relentlessly forward, whileeffective use of locations makes Venice look as if it was built for intrigue totake place in its canals and narrow streets. Above all, Amigorena, working fromhis own script, knows how to spin a yarn and how to spice it up with witticismsthat not only sparkle but hit close to home.
At one point the screenplaycontrasts diplomacy and espionage, concluding that the former is about tryingto keep the peace, the latter concerned with provoking war. At another stage acharacter explains how Americans are hated all over the world 'because youare expected to save mankind, and surprise - what's supposed to be good formankind is first and foremost good for you'.
No less entertaining are thephone sessions between Pound and his psychiatrist, whose wild word associationswould do credit to Woody Allen. Since Elliot, despite his absence, is the onedomineering character in the piece, and is a poet at heart, his imprint is felton everyone else. All the characters sound amazingly erudite, particularly thekiller who once was Elliot's apprentice.
Even the characters haveliterary associations - aside from (TS) Elliot there is also his daughter,named after Shakespeare's/Virginia Woolf's Orlando, and a murderer called(Ezra) Pound. The result is a constant stream of never identified quotes (withthe exception of a Henry Miller line), sounding almost like a snob intellectualquiz that might annoy some of the audiences.
Luckily, the performancesare good enough to smooth ruffled feathers, with Juliette Binoche onlyenhancing her charm by adding a steely backbone to her naturally soft, femininetouch. Sara Forestier and Tom Riley are perfectly comfortable as the twosparring siblings from two different continents who aren't really related andare bound to fall for each other. As for John Turturro, it is almost as if hehas been cast first and his lines written later to precisely fit his screenpersona, his flawless command of the outrageous Pound character adding anothernotch to his brilliant record.
Les Films Du Rat
France 2 Cinema Production Group (Italy)