Dir. Frederic Balekdjian.Fr. 2005. 85mins.
Taking place entirely ina garment district of Paris, Gamblers is a French Mean Streets, amessy, gratifying film about life in an ethnically-mixed neighbourhood and theart of making a living however one can. The first feature by the promisingFrederic Balekdjian, it makes for an assured, exciting drama with an eye forbig themes and small details.
It has already had littletrouble finding a small but committed French audience and, depending on themarketing and release pattern, could have a strong international showing aswell - possibly along the lines of Stephen Frears' similar big city explorationof illegals and working-class minorities in Dirty Pretty Things.
The at-times brutal story isanchored by Vahe (Elbe), a thirtysomething Frenchman of Armenian descentworking for his father's failing rug shop and surrounding himself with hisbrother and other small time hustlers as well as modest, hardworking peoplejust trying to get by. His Chinese girlfriend has just moved out of hisapartment, and despite - or because of - his heartbreak, he takes her illegalimmigrant brother under his wing while trying to get her back.
With its comprehensiveunderstanding of the Sentier neighbourhood it explores, Gamblers is botha cool gangster movie and a wise study of human nature, an update-of-sorts ofthe tragic, streetwise French classics by Jacques Becker and Jean-PierreMelville.
Though perhaps featuring onetoo many drunken brawls, the screenplay has many smartly written scenes thatshift back and forth between drama and light-heartedness, all in the samemoment. At a slender 85 minutes, a little more time spent delving further intothe lives of several supporting characters would have been welcomed.
Regardless, this film is thetype of engaging drama that pleases high-brow critics and average filmgoersalike; those attracted to realistic, way-of-life movies that are at once bleakand exciting, where guns are drawn by people who know how to use them, and alsoby those who don't.
At the same time, the filmdramatises the demographic shifting of one neighbourhood in transition, as isit moves from Armenian to Chinese.
In the spirit of theaforementioned Mean Streets as well as Do The Right Thing, Gamblerssucceeds because it presents in an entertaining and compelling way several daysin the lives of complicated, interesting characters of one neighbourhood.
Like the young Vito Corleonescenes in The Godfather, Part II, Balekdjian convincingly shows thesymbiotic relationships on the merchant-heavy streets as well as the politicsand power brokering that go on in a societal microcosm.
All the actors are strong,bringing an authenticity to their characters that do justice to their difficultlives. Simon Akarian (The Truth About Charlie, Ararat) stands outas the film's heavy. And lead actor Pascal Elbe shows great promise, with atender charisma that belies his character's hardened appearance. The kineticcinematography bolsters the film's intensity, with handheld cameras that get atthe intimacy of the characters, giving an almost documentary feel to its streetscenes.
Similarly, Balekdjian'sjudicious use of mostly American rock n' roll (including popular new bands likeTV On The Radio), perfectly complement the visuals.
Prod cos: Pyramide Prods, France 3 Cinema
Int'l sales: Pyramide Int'l
Fr dist: Pyramide Distribution
Exec prod: Laurent Champoussin
Prod: Fabienne Vonier
Scr: Frederic Balekdjian
Cine: Pierre Milon
Ed: Mike Fromentin
Prod des: Catherine Keller
Main cast: Pascal Elbe, SimonAbkarian, Isaac Sharry, Linh-Dan Pham, Teng Fei Xiang