Head Winds (2011)

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Trouble resolved in Brittany

Jalil Lespert is the star of two of my favorite contemporary French films, Laurent Cantet’s 1999 labor union drama Human Resources and Xavier Beauvois’ emotional 2005 policierLe petit Lieutenant. He’s a powerful actor. At 36,he’s already establishing himself as a director. This is his second performance in that other role.

In this quietly tumultuous little film, Paul Anderen (Benoît Magimel), a writer, fights with his doctor wife (Audrey Tautou), insisting that she take care of the house as well as her hospital duties so he can write, but she’s fed up and voilà! she disappears without a trace — leaving him with two adorable and vulnerable little kids. His life shattered, after a year of hoping in vain that his wife will be found, forced to go back to zero, Paul retreats from Paris to his childhood home in Saint-Malo, in Brittany, where his older brother Alex (Antoine Duléry) sets him up with a place to live and work as a driving instructor. Then he screws one of his first students, the pretty, flirty young Justine (Marie-Ange Casta). And he takes in a jobless, homeless man (Ramzy Bedia) who steals his kid from school. The cops and the mother (Lubna Azabal of Incendies) are not too pleased. This is not so good because when hiw wife first disappeared, he was a suspect. He also befriends a man who’s lost his job and license for running over a kid on a bike at night (Bouli Lanners). Paul must deal with the passive-aggressive officiousness of the local police chief (Isabelle Carré).

Des vents contraires, the bestselling novel this is based on by Olivier Adam (who collaborated with Lespert, Marion Laine and Marie-Pierre Huster on the screenplay), clearly chooses to throw the works at its sensitive yet durable protagonist and Magimel has to be a kind of damper: he absorbs, and the noise stops till something new comes along to challenge him. Clément and Manon (Hugo Fernandes and Cassiopé Mayance), the two kids, fare surprisingly well. One of the story’s points seems to be that the French social safety net is too intrusive at times and the police investigations, school administrators, and therapists ought to mind their own business.

An older woman comes along to learn to drive, an admirer of Paul’s books (Aurore Clément), who gives him her big house at a very reasonable rent. There is resolution, and life begins again.

The criticism is that this is a TV movie, a very good one, but a TV movie. Magimel is soulful and appealing; you may wish you had his rueful smile, his quiet intensity. At 38, he has already had a formidable career, winning the Best Actor prize at Cannes for his work with Isabelle Huppert in Haneke’s Le Pianiste and a regular for the late Claude Chabrol.  Nice restrained music here by  David François Moreau (with a minute of wild rap by DJ Pone), and creditable lensing by Josée Deshaies.  I like the way Lespert varies his tone.  This is not all gray, as some seem to think.

Des vents contraires, with its wintry Breton setting, opened appropriately in Paris in mid-December 2011, to generally favorable reviews (Allociné 3.1). There were a few dissenters: Cahiers du Cinéma found it taking shelter “under a gray smile,” too cowardly “to work with fire and ice.” Lespert may still be a better actor than director, but he knows how to find the best actors and work with them. The scenes with children are natural and sometimes fun. Head Winds opened in UK cinemas 17th February 2012.

DIRECTOR: JALIL LESPERT
WRITERS: OLIVIER ADAM (NOVEL AND ADAPTATION, LESPERT, MARION LAINE AND MARIE-PIERRE HUSTER (SCREENPLAY)
STARS: BENOÎT MAJIMEL, ISABELLE CARRÉ, ANTOINE DULÉRY, AUDREY TAUTOU, RAMZI BEDIA, MARIE-ANGE CASTA, AURAURE CLÉMENT
RUNTIME: 91 MINS
COUNTRY: FRANCE

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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