Dir/scr: Benoit Jacquot. Fr. 2006. 82mins.
Resembling a vehicle for upcoming young French star Isild Le Besco, The Untouchable, the latest feature fromveteran writer/director Benoit Jacquot, follows anactress who leaves Paris for India to locate her lower caste biological father.
A modest production in everyrespect that would have been better suited to Venice's parallel Horizons sectionthan the limelight of its main competition, TheUntouchable aspires to tackle a wide range of issues - including the generationgap, artistic integrity, racism and discrimination - but fails to go beyondsimple acknowledgment.
Le Besco,sporting a pout that seemingly threatens to disintegrate at any moment into anervous breakdown, never has the chance to explore other aspects of herpersonality. Meanwhile the visit to India proves a series of impressionisticobservations, made by an outsider who seems too dumbfounded to go any deeper intowhat she sees.
Jacquot's reputation as an intellectual film-maker - notentirely confirmed here - will usher TheUntouchable towards many festivals (next stop is Toronto) and some arthouse screens may show limited interest. But television lookslike the best bet.
Jeanne (Le Besco), a promising stage actress, is told on her birthdaythat her father is an Indian untouchable who her mother met during her youthfulperegrinations on the sub-continent some twenty years ago.
Shocked, Jeanne turns up forrehearsals the next morning, after a sleepless night of excessive drinking andan abortive affair, delivers a hysterical version of Brecht'smonologue from St Joan Of The Stockyards,then resigns from the play. Next she takes a short-lived part in a movie sheloathes, acting out a demeaning sex scene, in order to pay for her ticket to Benares and find her father.
On the plane out of Paris Jeannesits next to an elderly Indian who explains something about the caste system inhis country and the fate of untouchables, then disappears altogether.
After landing in a countryshe has never visited previously with only her father's name as a clue, Jeanne wandersaround town, crossing train tracks with the assurance of someone who was bornaround the corner. Reaching Benares, she walks besidethe river and watches the ritual burning of the dead, before the first personshe meets supplies her with the address of her eventual family - not bad in aland of around a billion people.
The Untouchable opens with the sound of someone being slapped, follows it with a highlyemotional scene between Jeanne and her mother, then tries to maintain the samelevel of anguish and restlessness for as long as possible.
What is never reallyclarified is what really determines Jeanne's extreme and unrelenting state ofnervous over-excitement, in part because the script believes in instinct ratherthan logic.
Jacquot obviously feels that skin-deep reactions do not needto be explained nor understood but can be taken for granted, simply becausethat's how things are. Evidently, the terrible news about her father's identityis disturbing enough for Jeanne to reject the Brechtpart she cherished and take on a job she despises.
Throughout we view Indiathrough Jeanne's eyes - but since her character is so shallow it leaves theaudience with nothing more than a stunned impression of the sub-continent. Her finalpretence that she will need time to digest all she has gone through can onlyraise a smile, which was probably not the script's intention.
Shooting in documentaryfashion, with minimal lighting and the kind of mobile camera which never gives itslead actress much space to move, Benoit's film ultimately falls between severalstools.
Le Besco,who has already worked several times before with Jacquot,is great at sulking, although she certainly can do more judging by her earlier workin the likes of the Backstage, whichplayed Venice last year. The rest of the cast are only called on to besympathetic for a minute or two before moving on, which they do efficientlyenough.
Isild Le Besco
Louis Dominique De Lencquesaing