Men with and
Sylvain gets a respite from his lonely life while frolicking with two visiting Parisians.
French cinema tends to be overpopulated with dreadful movies set at the seaside in which improbably ugly men pursue and conquer improbably beautiful women. When I saw the trailer to the new film, Un Monde sans Femmes (A World without Women), directed by Guillaume Brac, I feared that it was following the same inglorious tradition, so it was quite a relief to find something very different and much more charming.
The title is somewhat misleading, because women feature prominently in the film. “A town without women” might have been more appropriate, as the story revolves around the quintessentially sleepy seaside Picardy town of Ault, where men have little chance of meeting potential girlfriends. The life of the sweet, lonely Sylvain, played to perfection by Vincent Macaigne, is therefore considerably brightened when a mother and daughter come from Paris to rent a seaside apartment he owns in Ault. We follow his evolving friendship with the pair as the mother, Patricia (Laure Calamy), is propositioned by various men in the town and her adolescent daughter, Juliette (Constance Rousseau), is frequently embarrassed by her flirtatious mother’s antics. Sylvain’s unarticulated attraction for Patricia is painfully charted, most touchingly so in their visit to one of those ghastly discothèques (here called “Le France”) that can be found in every one-horse town in France.
Brac has an excellent eye for the detail of small-town life, and never does the movie lapse into caricature as La Tête en Friche, another French film about a simple, small-town guy, did. This lack of stereotyping is probably due to the fact that the secondary roles are played by non-professional inhabitants of the town, giving the movie a wonderful authenticity. We have all seen the young men who chat up women on the beach and the people who pass their day in local cafés or bars, and it is refreshing to see that they are portrayed without condescension.
While the movie overall lacks ambition and the dénouement is a tad improbable, it is saved by superb central performances, especially that of Macaigne, whose bumbling charm and large frame reminded me of a young Gérard Depardieu.
By the way, the short film that precedes the film and serves as an introduction to the main character won a César award for best short subject last week.
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