Dir/Scr: Jacques Doillon. Fr/Belg 2008. 122mins.
French director Jacques Doillon's first feature in five years, Just Anybody (Le Premier Venu), is a supple and intelligent work that exerts a strange and fascinating pull. The movie consistently darts and moves toward the unexpected and unveils depths of characterisation and subtlety of action that are both exacting and dramatically satisfying.
Set during an incident-packed four days, Just Anybody is as brittle as the wintry sun-baked French coastal landscapes that centre the action. For the most part, Doillon pulls off the tonally difficult material with the help of some very interesting performances, excellent writing and highly involving direction.
Set for French release in April through Pyramide, Just Anybody's gritty naturalistic language and sexual directness should also allow the right specialised US and UK distributor to find an appreciative audience, despite its cast of unknowns.
While Doillon's recent work (Raja, Petits Frères) has lacked the commercial reach of his best known international title, 1996's Ponette, this is like a darker version of Eric Rohmer's restoration comedies (Pauline At The Beach or A Summer's Tale) entwined with the rougher, working class regionalism of Bruno Dumont (L'humanite)
Admirably stripped-down and tense - the only burst of music is the infrequent strains of Debussy - Just Anybody is framed around an unaccountable and rather improbable sexual attraction between a beautiful and free-spirited young woman Camille (Beaugrand) and an older addict and classic screw-up named Costa (Thomassin).
Doillon's elliptical script hinges on a sexual action between the two that was either a violation or a horrendous experience better left forgotten.
Meanwhile, Costa's childhood friend, Cyril (Saurrel), is a cop whose clear sexual attraction to Camille complicates matters.
Doillon's script evolves into a series of striking encounters and elaborately-played-out emotional exchanges of power, control, jealousy and rage coloured by issues of money, class and the clash between Costa's social miscreant and Cyril's essential decency and goodness.
The fourth significant character is Gwen (Godquin), the mother of Costa's young daughter.
Doillon and his talented cinematographer, Helene Louvart, choreograph the action as a series of dances, working a lot in medium close-ups and fluid, handheld camera work that sharply captures the characters' dissonant feelings and moral confusion. In her first significant role, Beaugrand is a revelation.
The entire movie is predicated on her rationale for being attracted to the loutish Costa.
'I'm tired of being loved and misunderstood,' she says. The quickness of her actions, combined with the hidden motives, proves intoxicating and she's alluring and mysterious without ever becoming tiresome Thomassin resembles a younger Denis Lavant, a strangely handsome man whose lived-in, ex press ive face suggests all manner of personal grievances.
Doillon's great skill is in refusing to soften his characters. The 122-min film ends on a protracted and eerily-played action involving kidnapping, extortion and aggravated assault that in the hands of a less talented director would spiral out of control and destroy the emotional rhythms.
A melancholy and trenchant exploration of youthful discontent, Just Anybody is a tenacious piece that sticks in the mind.
Two Ton Films
Director of photography
Marie Da Costa