In the Beginning

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Time Out says

Thu May 21 2009

Reviewed at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival

A couple of years ago, Xavier Giannolli made a small but very pleasing splash in Cannes with ‘The Singer’ (‘Quand J’Etais Chanteur’). So his follow-up, ‘In the Beginning’ (‘A l’Origine’) comes as something of a disappointment, particularly given the promising potential of a remarkable story taken from real life.

François Cluzet is characteristically charismatic and convincing as Paul, a petty criminal who finds upon release from prison that he’s unable to get a job. Pretending to be a sales manager for an offshoot of a major construction company, he makes a little money for himself around the towns of northern France, and can’t resist the offer of some ‘commission’ from a couple of businessmen whose services were dropped by that same company. What Paul – or Philippe as he now calls himself – hasn’t realised is that high unemployment means everyone in the area is all too ready to believe that that same company is recommencing work on a highway project that will bring great benefits to the region; and soon, with support from the mayor (Emmanuelle Devos) and virtually everyone else, he’s heading up a huge operation – without, of course, having the requisite know-how, documents or funding. It can only be a matter of time before his credit runs out.

It would be hard not to make an interesting movie from such material, but Giannolli has almost succeeded in doing so. It’s not that he doesn’t connect with the most rewarding aspects of the story; indeed, he draws on most of the themes at hand: the fraught relationship between reality, falsehood and fantasy; the pros and cons of starting over; the gullibility of the needy; the conflict between welcome results and dishonest practice; and the heady combination of fear and exhilaration that can come from seeing one’s plans and expectations slide massively out of control. The trouble is, he draws on them all at such length. At 90 minutes there would probably have been a good film here; at an hour longer than that, each and every development in the story is dealt with in such a way that the film feels tediously repetitive and sluggish in making its points even before the first hour has passed.

There are good moments along the way, but as the film finally embarks upon its last half-hour, it goes spectacularly off the rails. As if aware that he should crank up the narrative momentum and tie up some of the story’s loose ends, Giannolli resorts increasingly to melodramatic contrivance, so that financial and logistical deadlines, appalling weather, crashed cranes, failed relationships and much else besides turn up as pesky obstacles to be overcome before a sense of satisfactory closure can be achieved. Ironically, by then it’s hard to care about Paul’s fate anyway; this particular road has been too long and winding by far.

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Cast and crew

Cast:

François Cluzet, Gérard Depardieu, Emmanuelle Devos

Director:

Xavier Giannoli

Screenwriter:

Xavier Giannoli

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