|Lionel (Lionel Baier) and his boyfriend Serge (Stéphane Rentznik), whom he leaves to find his Polish roots.|
Comme des Voleurs (à l’Est) is young Swiss director Lionel Baier’s second film. His first, Garçon Stupide (2004), although uneven, showed enough promise to augur well for future films, and was remarkable for an extraordinary performance by Pierre Chatagny. Baier himself played a character named Lionel in Garçon Stupide, appearing off-screen until the final frames of the film.
In Comme des Voleurs, he again plays the part of Lionel, with his actual surname thrown in for good measure, but here he is the central character. In case the audience has not already guessed, we are helpfully reminded during the film that Lionel writes “autofiction.” Baier is joined by the principal actress from Garçon Stupide, Natacha Koutchoumov, here playing his sister Lucie.
When Lionel learns by chance that he has a Polish great-grandfather, a chain of events is set off that leads to brother and sister abandoning their respective male partners (and a Polish woman with no identity papers Lionel is planning to marry so she can stay in the country) and making their way to Eastern Europe in a Radio Suisse car belonging to Lionel’s employer. Clearly drawing on the road movie tradition, the film includes a fight and a car chase before the pair’s car and possessions are stolen. In a bizarre mirroring of the Polish woman’s circumstances in Switzerland, Lionel and Lucie find themselves without papers in Poland.
Baier is at his best when observing social situations: the reaction 0f the family when the gay Lionel announces his impending marriage to the Polish woman, for example, or the men at the garage they go t0 to get their car repaired, and the anti-globalist female hitchhiker who steals their car while the siblings are eating in a Polish McDonald’s. The acting is on the whole engaging and convincing.
But Baier is less effective in mastering the overall structure of the film: narrative coherence and cohesion are often lacking, not helped by the heavy-handed use of Ravel as a musical backdrop (surely Chopin would have been more appropriate for a film set in Poland?), and too many plot strands are left unresolved.
By the end of this overly long film, one gets the sense that Baier still hasn’t realized his full potential as a filmmaker, even though the talent is definitely there.
© 2008 Paris Update
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