Dir. Pascal Bonitzer. France/UK. 2002. 95mins.

The old cliche of the French intellectual in crisis, talking himself silly as he rambles from one encounter or affair to the next, receives another lease of life in the third directorial effort from Pascal Bonitzer, the first of his films to be accepted in competition for a major festival. An old acolyte of Jacques Rivette and a member of the Cahiers du Cinema editorial team throughout the 1970s, Bonitzer has found, with his first two films, a receptive audience in the francophone world. For its part, Minor Injuries has had a fair box office performance in France, where it opened in mid February, registering 103,789 admissions ($539,702) from 231 screens in its first week. However, in overseas territories where plots, conflict and action are considered necessary, Bonitzer has been mostly relegated to the art circuit. His current effort is unlikely to change that status.

Bonitzer's intellectual this time round is Bruno (Daniel Auteuil), a journalist for French communist daily L'Humanite, who has apparently lost his faith in the old creed. Instead he now finds himself furiously sleeping around at the slightest excuse, as if trying to escape the ideological vacuum in which he is marooned.

When Bonitzer introduces Bruno he is embarking on a fling with a much younger girl (Ludivine Sagnier), while trying at the same time to stop his regular partner (Emmanuelle Devos) from leaving him. The opening shot, in which the two women accidentally meet in the street, establishes the none-too-serious tone kept throughout the film of bantering satire laced with pathos.

The audience then follow Bruno's exploits over the coming days. First, he reluctantly visits Grenoble to help the local mayor (Jean Yanne), another disillusioned communist still on the party ticket, to face the next elections. Dispatched by the candidate to run an errand to an isolated house in the mountains, Bruno encounters at least three more female companions, visits 14th-century ruins at midnight, becomes involved in a bar brawl and finally reaches a tragi-comic end that should leave him wiser than he was 95 minutes earlier.

Bonitzer treats Bruno as if he is in a pawn in a game, one which the director is clearly fond of playing and in which coincidence dominates. There is nothing in the dramatic material that dictates the development of the plot, one way or the other; at the same time there is nothing illogical in the storyline as it plays out.

Instead, what really matters in Minor Injuries is the verbal intercourse (there is little of the other variety) between the characters. Often it just consists of clever exchanges of banalities, as one character points out to another, but these are smartly phrased and neatly delivered in every instance. Other issues touched on include how no one can explain how it is still possible to be a communist; whether a troubled intellectual is fit only for vaudeville; and why women hide behind cosmetic armour, as indicated by their repeated use of lipstick.

Luckily for Bonitzer, he has Auteuil as his bemused wandering knight, as well as Kristin Scott-Thomas as the more developed of his female partners. Both enter the spirit of the game and handle the dialogue with remarkable ease. The rest of the cast, particularly veteran Jean Yanne, as the despondent mayor seeking re-election, and Ludivine Sagnier, as a confused teenager in love with an older man, offer their stalwart support to a pleasant but not particularly compelling experience. Technical credits are generally satisfactory, although less of John Scott's sentimental score might have done more for Bonitzer's kind of wit.

Prod: Rezo Production
Fr dist:
Rezo Films
Int'l sales:
Flach Pyramide
Jean-Michel Rey, Philippe Liegeois
Bonitzer, Emmanuel Salinger
William Lubtschansky
Suzanne Koch
Prod. des:
Emmanuel de Chauvigny
John Scott
Daniel Auteuil, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Ludivine Sagnier, Pascale Bussieres, Jeanne Yanne, Emmnuelle Devos, Catherine Mouchet, Hans Zischler