By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
No doubt about it, Téchiné loves to pile on the parallels, both private and public. As if all these binary couplings weren’t enough, the war in Iraq hovers rather too glibly in the background, and witchcraft shows up to confound Western reason and thicken the plot, whose intricacies threaten to engulf the love story at the movie’s heart. The film opens with French engineer Antoine (Gérard Depardieu) yelling at his Arab employees for their failure to work hard enough (on a Sunday), then apparently succumbing to a mudslide caused by his own carelessness. Now there’s a symbolic ending for you, but Téchiné mischievously leaves us wondering where to place this event in the movie, and whether to read it as comedy, tragedy or just desserts. We learn that Antoine has come to Tangier ostensibly to oversee the building of a spanking-new media center to rival Al-Jazeera’s, but really to reconnect with his long-lost love, Cécile (Catherine Deneuve), now an apparently contented frau and radio talk-show host carrying listeners’ messages of the romantic love she herself renounced long ago.
A common tic these days, especially among male film critics, is to rave on nervously about how 50-plus actresses like Deneuve or Charlotte Rampling remain “as beautiful as ever.” At best this is gallantry, at worst disingenuousness or fantasy trumping reality. Like other women her age, Deneuve has inevitably lost much of her silky radiance, and the unfortunate bee-stung lips she’s acquired belong on a much younger woman. But like Rampling, who’s up there with Meryl Streep in scoring an abundance of movie roles of late, she’s been lucky or wise enough to let other energies come to the fore, notably a worldly and amused practicality that gestures secretively at unfinished erotic business. All but dumpy in a porkpie hat and a shapeless blue shirt covering her ample body, Cécile is the essence of an ordinary woman come to terms with her life — except for the bottomless dark eyes that signal she’s not yet done with desire, or with the flirty exercise of feminine power.
Antoine, with his bulbous potato nose, his blundering pursuit of Cécile in full view of her either tolerant or smug husband (Gilbert Melki), may be her opposite, but she has his number as completely as she does that of her confused son, Sami (Malik Zidi), who swings between lovers like an unhinged pendulum. No saint herself, Cécile does battle with Sami as some strong mothers do with their gay sons, through seduction and control. But she gets him, as she does Antoine, far more thoroughly than either man gets himself. In Téchiné’s movies (four of which have been vehicles for Deneuve), it’s almost always the feminine, loosely defined, that wins the day. “You can’t possess someone without causing some harm,” Antoine’s Moroccan assistant (and potion-supplier) Nabila (Nabila Baraka) warns him. Given the choice, Téchiné will always plump for the damage, and his women lead the way while fully counting the cost. Full of last-minute surprises, this willfully slippery movie seems to make the case both for mixing it up and sticking to your own kind. Which is all of a piece with the sensibility of this wonderfully ambiguous filmmaker, a visionary of our changing times.
QUINCEAÑERA | Written and directed by RICHARD GLATZER and WASH WESTMORELAND | Produced by ANNE CLEMENTS | Released by Sony Pictures Classics | At ArcLight, Monica 4-Plex, Playhouse 7, Town Center 5
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