|Frédéric Diefenthal plays Paco, an ex-con.|
Although Voisins, Voisines, a new film directed by Malik Chibane, got good reviews when it opened in late July, it seems to be going more or less unnoticed by French movie-goers; only a week after its release, it was playing in just a few Paris cinemas. But then L’Esquive, another low-budget film set in the Parisian suburbs, also went nearly unnoticed by the public until it won the César, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for best picture this year.
Voisins, Voisines has an original premise that creates a clever framework for the story. The film is set in a cité (a suburban housing project) that is in the process of being gentrified: the melting pot residents (Jews, Muslims, blacks and whites of various origins) of the Résidence Mozart have purchased their apartments and hold meetings to decide every little detail about what will happen to the building. Being good liberals, they have just hired an ex-con, Paco (Frédéric Diefenthal), as the building superintendent.
One of the residents, Moussa Diop (Insa Sané, of the group 3k2N), is a famous rapper, but he has stayed in the cité he grew up in out of loyalty to his roots. His manager is pressuring him to write a new album, but Moussa is suffering from writer’s block. In search of inspiration, he start to take an interest in his neighbors and, voilà, the story begins. We watch the residents living their lives while Moussa’s songs provide commentary on them and, in the end, influence the action.
While it could have used tighter editing (like most movies these days) here and there, Voisins, Voisines is full of charm and gentle humor, with characters who seem real. Anyone who has ever lived in Paris will recognize one or two of his or her own neighbors: the officious women who is trying to stage a takeover of the co-op board is an especially classic type of Parisienne.
© 2005 Paris Update
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