Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pascal Elbe, Simon Abkarian, Isaac Sharry, Lihn Dan Pham

12TH French Film Festival, Cinema 3, Shang Cineplex

Despite it being entitled "Gamblers" in English, this French film isn't about high rollers and casinos but more about people taking chances and gambling with their lives.

It is set in the Sentier district of Paris, the center of the garments industry. A sector also known for its large immigrant population. Vahe works for his father's textiles store which is on the brink of closing down. His girlfriend Lu Ann has left him and he is suddenly forced to take her younger brother Yuen under his wing and suffers the consequences of his act.

It is an honest glimpse into the life of a man on the brink of making choices and sticking to them. Volatile times reign in modern day France which now has an alarming immigrant population. But Vahe's story isn't about the difficulties an immigrant faces in his host country but about the everyday travails of a group of people who just happen to be immigrants. A life riddled with crime syndicates, petty crimes but at the same time these people now make up the backbone of France, today. Their lives are intertwined with the lives of other immigrants who all seek to make an honest living by doing what they know best. It is about the young Chinese laborers who works at sweat shop like factories. A restaurant run by the Chinese family of Lu Ann. It is about the Lebanese merchants who sells the textiles to these factories which in turn are run by Hungarian mob like characters. But it is also about compassion, about romance and about life in general as seen through the perspective of assimilated immigrants who live in harmony with each other.

Pascal Elbe who in my opinion looks like a rougher version of Eric Bana portrays Vahe. A somehow compassionate person who can't seem to make things work to his advantage. He is still in love with his Chinese now ex girlfriend, Lu Ann to the point of obsessively stalking her. He takes it upon himself to help her younger brother, Yuen who is a restless young man more focused on courting than actually earning a living. Vahe is mostly a rather common character in French movies with immigrant themes. A character guided by his heritage yet trying to adapt to his host country to the best of his rather limited ability. Usually they can easily assimilate within society yet they are still judged by their stereotypical behaviours.
In the same breath, Lu Ann is a young liberated Asian woman of Chinese ancestry who was born and raised all her life in France. She can hardly speak her native tongue and she aspires to be more than just a dishwasher/helper in a Chinese restaurant. But when she gets romantically involved with a fellow Chinese, her friend tells her that she will be better off with a French guy because "Chinese no good".

Although the story line is quite realistic, the editing could use some improvement. Certain scenes don't seem to coordinate with the main plot. They seemed too forced to make any relevance. The cinematography is true to its setting, a working class neighborhood which could really use some renovation. As is now common among French movies, there are no definitive conclusions to some side plots in the storyline. The director, Frédéric Balekdjian who is the son of Armenian immigrants loosely based the story upon his own life. He grew up in the Sentier district. Perhaps his idea is that the story of an immigrant or any person for that matter doesn't really have a conclusive ending as long as he is alive. The audience is left to form their own opinions about the fate of each of the characters once the end credits roll up in the dark theater. The question though is do we really care what happened to them?

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