Dir: Antony Cordier. Fr.2005. 100mins.
The debut fiction feature from young French directorAntony Cordier, Cold Showers may not score heavily in terms of novelty:it is, after all, a small-town coming-of-age story trimmed with edgy teenagesex. Nevertheless, his rites-of-passage feature, which screened in Directors'Fortnight at Cannes, brings an unshowy, observation intelligence to anostensibly familiar story of adolescent blues.
Cordier previously made amark with his documentaries, notably Beau Comme Un Camion, about hisworking-class family (it won the Special Jury Prize in Clermont-Ferrand in2000). He also directed a portrait of Ken Loach last year, and the affinitiesshow in his no-nonsense, but dramatically energetic realist style. Cold Showerswill no doubt do as much for Cordier's reputation as for its two young leads,Salome Stevenin and non-professional discovery Johan Libereau.
French box-office should bemodest but respectable, and the film should appeal equally to distributors andfestivals with an eye for the more thoughtful end of young French cinema.
The film announces itsintentions at the start, with a voice-over from 17-year-old Mickael (Libereau),who tells us how he used to be alarmed by the notion that people change. Hisown metamorphoses are chronicled over a brief period, measured out by hissimultaneous preparations for school exams and a judo tournament.
Mickael is a committed starof his judo team, but is not so hot in the classroom, especially given thedistraction of sixth-form temptress Vanessa (Stevenin), with whom he starts aheavily sexual relationship. At home, Mickael has to contend with loving butdysfunctional parents: alcoholic taxi-driver father Gerard (Ecoffey) and motherAnnie (Thomassin) whose obsessive methods of saving electricity give the filmits title.
The main dramatic tensioncomes from the menage a trois, which - a touch predictably - issues betweennaive Mickael, sexually adventurous Vanessa and Mickael's judo partner ClementSteiner (Perrier), a rich kid whose businessman father (Recoing) sponsors theteam.
The trio's first grapple isbeautifully orchestrated, starting out as a set of judo moves before shadinginto a steamy free-for-all that is tender and genuinely erotic. Inevitably,however, these adventures turn sour, causing Mickael's tensions to spill outdramatically.
Cordier manages to convey astrong sense of his small-town setting's social shape, without being toospecific geographically. He has an unerring eye for everyday turmoil, rarelyemphasising the conventionally dramatic: for example, a party at the Steinerhouse ends with Gerard drunk, but no big deal is made of it, despite itsawkward aftermath.
Meanwhile, the film is veryprecise about the daily threads of characters' lives: a consistent subplot isMickael's attempt to lose nine kilos for the tournament.
Johan Libereau is apromising discovery: although he initially strikes the eye as a sensitive toughboy in a slightly familiar mould, he has a natural reserve that enables him tobring relaxed nuance to even most demanding scenes. And Salome Stevenin vividlyconveys the narcissistic, slightly cruel self-awareness of the teenager who'swell aware that she can get boys eating out of her hand.
Together with the rathermore muted Perrier, in a slightly underdeveloped role, they make a bravethreesome, especially in sex scenes that come across as being no less risky forthe actors than for their characters.
The script, by Cordier andJulie Peyr, is peppered with dry wit, and the support cast, especially a bluffbut tender Jean-Philippe Ecoffey, make the most of it with generous goodhumour.
Despite being a littleoverlong, Cordier's feature debut is generally as muscular yet as tender as youcould ask a male coming-of-age drama to be.
Why Not Productions