Mauvaise Foi

February 7, 2010By Tom RidgwayArchive

Keeping the Faith

Ismaël (Roschdy Zem) and Clara (Cécile de France) confront the issues in Mauvaise Foi.

Ismaël (Roschdy Zem) and Clara (Cécile de France) have been together for four years. They’re a happy couple, but when Clara discovers that she’s pregnant, their never-addressed underlying differences come rising to the surface. Ismaël, you see, is Muslim and Clara Jewish, and neither of them has told their respective parents about their relationship.

Mauvaise Foi (Bad Faith), Zem’s first film as a director, is a tender and funny look at what happens when the outside world – politics, tradition, societal prejudices and family – hits the personal: the love between two people.

By concentrating on their characters and giving each one real humanity, Zem and co-writer Pascal Elbé (who also plays Ismaël’s Jewish best friend, Milou) manage to add body to a story that could have so easily fallen into empty schematics.

The way the child’s imminent arrival brings with it attitudes and beliefs that both Ismaël and Clara thought had nothing to do with them is utterly believable. Both are non-practicing, but as they face the reactions of their families (and their preconceptions of how their families will react), they discover that the tradition, beliefs and community of their respective religions counted more for them than they thought. As Clara asks, “What does it mean to be Jewish?” (She and Milou decide that it means living in a permanent state of inexplicable guilt.)

Mauvaise Foi also manages to lightly explore one of France’s current hot topics: Can the secular ideals of the French state survive in the face of today’s resurgent identity-based and religious politics? When her mother asks whether the child will be Muslim or Jewish, Clara’s simple reply is, “It’ll be French.” The couple’s relationship represents that ideal; they have always thought of themselves as two French people, not a Muslim and a Jew.

Clara’s father says that in a relationship between two people of different religions one always ends up giving way, but Mauvaise Foi says that the only way people can get along is by letting both give way – to love, to the ideal of people’s basic humanity mattering more than their religion.

It may be a utopian Rodney King-style plea for harmony, but Zem’s film covers its message with a generous layer of humor and good will (it has great fun playing around with both religions’ traditions and prejudices). While you may not believe that it’s possible for us all to live in peace and love, Mauvaise Foi, at least for 90 minutes, makes you believe that it is. And when did a bit of optimism hurt anyone?

Tom Ridgway

© 2006 Paris Update

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