Dir: Brice Cauvin. Fr. 2005. 94mins.

"Sublimely enigmatic" is one way to describe Hotel Harabati;for many viewers, "maddeningly inscrutable" will becloser to the mark. Either way, Brice Cauvin'steasing debut will keep audiences arguing long after its unexpectedly beatificending.

Personably spikylead performances, a willfully fractured narrative and a defiantly provocativeattitude to viewer expectations give this economically-executed piece adefinite edge. Distribution may be hampered by the fact that it's practicallyimpossible to say in a nutshell what the film, or indeed the story, is reallyabout.

Perhaps the filmis perhaps best described as an absurdist parable of modern bourgeois life,loosely speaking à la Bunuel,although perhaps with a dash of Polanski.

The film,superficially at least, is the portrait of a foundering marriage, with crisisbrought on by a mysterious McGuffin. The actionbegins on a station platform, where Marion (Fillières)falls into conversation with a middle-aged man, apparently of Arab origin.

When he leaveshis bag behind, Marion and Philippe take it home on a whim, and puzzle over theaddress on its label: 'Hotel Harabati'. Meanwhile thecouple are due to go to Venice - or are they'

From here on,nothing in the couple's behaviour smacks of realisticpsychology. They dither over buying a new flat but inexplicably back out of thedeal. Marion starts hiding out with her two sons, while her home goes to rackand ruin. Architect Philippe screws up spectacularly at work, becomes anxiousto the point of paranoia about Islamic terrorism, thenstrikes up an implicitly gay relationship with a young man (Roth Costanzo), who in a bizarre musical moment turns out to havea spectacular operatic voice.

But why are thecouple's finances draining so dramatically' And why is Marion so alarmed whenher child psychologist friend (Gayet) brings out abook'

Hotel Harabati is a head-scratcherright up to the final act, when the action suddenly makes a dramaticgeographical jump. But, far from intending only to mystify, Cauvinis out to make some serious satiric points about France's anxieties in achanging climate and about its need to better understand Islamic cultures.

French cinema'scurrent Mr Anxiety, Lucas is on good form, while Fillières, an actress due for a breakthrough, is wittilynervy. A strong supporting cast, including a regal Anouk Aimee, add class toa visually low-key but hugely distinctive curio.

Production company
Mille Et Une Production

Films Distribution

Marc Irmer

Brice Cauvin
Jerôme Beaujour
Pierre Scholer

Marc Tevanian

Agathe Cauvin

Production design
Philippe Van Herwijnen

Philippe Miller

Main cast
Helène Fillières
Laurent Lucas
Anouk Aimee
Anthony Roth Costanzo
Julie Gayet