Dir: Romain Goupil. France. 2002. 92mins.
Friends for more than 30 years, a group of radicals rediscover their passion for direct action in Une Pure Coincidence. The result is a timely, entertaining documentary notable for its warm spirit and light humour. Lacking a professional polish or great visual appeal, it is too slight to attract theatrical interest in most territories but should still secure a Festival circuit niche and some television sales.
An assistant to such notable filmmakers as Roman Polanski, Chantal Akerman and Jean-Luc Godard, director Romain Goupil won the Camera D'Or at Cannes and the Cesar for his first feature Mourir A Trente Ans in 1982. A Mort La Mort! brought him back to the Quinzaine in 1999. Une Pure Coincidence takes its inspiration from personal events. A leftist in the 1960s, he has remained close friends with his comrades of that era. In the past, they have marched together and manned the barricades. In 1978, one of them committed suicide and the others decided their days as militants were over. Now, they still meet to play poker.
One day, Goupil learns from an illegal immigrant that there is an extortion operation being run in Paris by the people who smuggle the immigrants into the country. A foreign exchange office is the front for the operation and the place where the immigrants go to deliver their payments. Rumours abound that family members are held elsewhere in the city and tortured if the payments are not made. Naturally, the immigrants are there illegally so have no recourse to the authorities. ' It is the head office of a human slave trade,' declares Goupil.
He asks his friends what they should do. Director Tonie Marshall replies that ' if this place exists it must burn'. Goupil decides that the best plan is to secretly film the office and expose the scandal. The rest of the film charts the efforts of the bumbling but determined friends to rig up a camera in a child's buggy (immediately dubbed 'Operation Potemkin'), operate a stake-out and eventually raid the premises.
Remaining behind the camera for much of the shoot, Goupil mixes the story with material on his family life-his grandmother's concern for future generations, his son's refusal to attend school, the plans for a birthday party etc. Filled with a succession of talking heads, It almost feels like the most amateurish of home movies and has none of the style and wit of Nanni Moretti's diary-style films. It becomes considerably more endearing when it focuses on the decision to act, with the good-humoured friends only too aware of the absurdity of their actions as they plan their crime whilst squabbling over disguises and the practicalities of overnight surveillance in a van that lacks toilet facilities. Their naivety and tenacity is highly endearing.
Une Pure Coincidence is entirely concerned with capturing what the men did. There is little attempt to place the events in the wider context of current French politics, although one of the friends does attack a man putting fascist stickers on a billboard and they do protest in favour of giving papers to immigrants. There is little examination of why this particular injustice provoked them to such extreme measures or whether it might reflect a slumbering giant ready to reawaken.
The fact that all of this is on film and now available for public viewing does present an interesting question on the legal position of those involved. The film's funniest moments come towards the end as the friends gather to listen to the advice of a lawyer who suggests it might be wisest to claim it was all fiction and offer the traditional disclaimer that any resemblance to real events and people living or dead is a pure coincidence.
Prod co: Les Films Du Losange
Int'l sales: Les Films Du Losange
Prod: Margaret Menegoz
Sound: Sophie Chiabaut
Ed: Nicole Lubtchansky
Sound: Sophie Chiabuy, Dominique Dalmasso
Main cast: Goupil, Alain Cyroulnik, Olivier Martin, Nicolas Minkowski, Jean-Baptiste Poirot