Mon Frère se Marie

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Dysfunctional Wedding Picture

The always-popular subject of a wedding doesn’t deliver this time.

In a week when posters for two “blockbuster” French films were plastered all over Paris – Laurent Tirard’s Molière and Alain Berbérian’s L’Île aux Trésors (based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island) – the former featuring Roman Duris in a bad wig and the latter Gérard Jugnot sporting a bad permatan – the idea of seeing a quiet, low-budget, independent comedy about an oddball family seemed appealing. The fact that the French-Swiss production Mon Frère se Marie was playing in only three Paris cinemas and had good reviews from the usually hard-to-please Libération and Les Inrockuptibles made it seem even more like a potential winner, a sleeper you’d be happy to discover and tell your friends about.

This method of choosing a film has worked well for me in the past, but it failed this time. The rather preposterous plot of the film goes like this: Vinh, a Vietnamese boy adopted by a Swiss family at the time of the great exodus of the “boat people” from his country, is about to marry and has invited his natural mother to the wedding in Switzerland. So far, so good. There are a few problems, however. His Vietnamese mother and uncle are arriving for the wedding in a couple of days, and he hasn’t informed his Swiss family or made any preparations. Not only that, but his mother thinks that the Swiss family is Catholic and that the parents – who have been divorced for 10 years – are still a happy couple. And, just to complicate things further, the Vietnamese visitors speak no French. There we have the setup for many comic situations, all of which Swiss director and scenarist Jean-Stéphane Bron duly exploits, to no effect.

And so the film drags on. Why, oh why, do we have to watch Claire, the Swiss mother (Aurore Clément) staring meaningfully off into space for minutes at a time? Why does it feel like the actors are improvising (shouldn’t good improvising be undetectable?). This aspect of the film made me suspect that Bron was a John Cassavetes fan, but the comparison doesn’t flatter this film. While Cassavetes’ improvisations could sometimes be boring, too, they always had far more visual and psychological substance to them.

The film also fails to move us with its family psychodramas (daughter hates mother, father doesn’t communicate, divorced parents haven’t yet worked out all the tensions between them, etc.). Here the director seemed to be striving for something like Thomas Vinterberg’s excellent The Celebration, which also treated (more serious) family problems, but in a much deeper and more entertaining way.

At least Mon Frère doesn’t go for a cheap happy ending, but then it doesn’t really have an ending – it just seems to stop.

Until now Bron has only made documentary films. He seems to have had great ambitions for his first fictional feature, but unfortunately he hasn’t managed to realize them.

Heidi Ellison

© 2007 Paris Update

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