Mektoub, My Love

 

starstarstar

 


An evocation of seaside holidays in France as experienced by young people in the 1990s.

 
Mektoub, My Love

Lou Luttiau and Ophélie Bau

  

In this instance, the star rating above is somewhat tentative due to the fact that the nature of Abdellatif Kechiche’s new film is such that I am not part of its target audience. Mektoub, My Love, apparently intended as the first part of a trilogy and actually labelled ‘Canto Uno’, is set in Sète in Southern France that was also the location for Couscous (2007), the work that first brought this writer/director to our notice. This time around, it takes place in the summer of 1994 and the intention is to create a film that is intensely immersive. Not only is the piece strongly atmospheric and evocative of beach holidays in the sun but it also eschews any real plot to dwell on the day-to-day lives within this holiday setting of youngsters whose age in  most cases is not very much more than twenty. Since Kechiche has chosen to do this at length - his film lasts all of 181 minutes - it is a fair assumption that he envisages an audience which, if not exactly of that same age now or in 1994, will nevertheless readily identify with the characters on screen. That is surely confirmed when in the last half-hour of Mektoub, My Love Kechiche indulges in a very long disco episode so limited in plot development that it seems to exist for its own sake - and to hell with any viewers who are bored because they don’t succumb to the sounds and sight of disco.

 

To some extent we are invited to view things through the eyes of Amin (Shaïn Boumédine). He is a young man who, now living in Paris, has abandoned medical studies with as yet unrealised hopes of becoming involved in film. He is the observer here as he visits his family and quickly realises that his childhood friend, Ophélie (Ophélie Bau) is having an affair with his cousin Tony (Salim Kechiouche) despite the former having a fiancé who is away on military duty. As for Tony, he has eyes for more than Ophélie and, after the cousins have a beach encounter with two girls from Nice, Céline (Lou Luttiau) and Charlotte (Alexia Chardard), the four go around together with Charlotte coming to believe that Tony is serious about her. Older members of Amin’s family appear too and essentially this is a portrait of a time and a place rather than a piece in any way plot-driven.

 

There are both positive and negatives here. The direction and editing immediately make it evident that this a film by an experienced hand, but ever since Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) Abdellatif Kechiche has been linked to claims against him by women. Undoubtedly this new film is one that ogles the bodies of the young females in the cast. On the other hand, in the film’s only sex scene, which is seen at the start, Bau, a striking presence, seems to be enjoying every minute of it. Furthermore, the 58-year-old Kechiche seems to be following albeit in a more sexual way the example of the great Eric Rohmer who despite his years made utterly persuasive films about people who were very much younger than himself - and it has to be said that the youngsters in Mektoub, My Love are absolutely believable. An additional point of note is that, whether or not influenced by the contribution of Kechiche’s co-writer and partner Ghalya Lacroix, it is the females portrayed who emerge as by far the more characterful.

 

However, this is not a film that has anything very definite to say. To some extent it could be regarded as an exercise in hedonistic nostalgia (the playing of the hippie anthem 'San Francisco' behind the end credits arguably implies a parallel with that earlier period). Yet the free lifestyle depicted can cause misery and, if opening quotations from both the Bible and the Koran seem surprising, the one scene with a touch of the sacred features the birth of lambs accompanied on the soundtrack by religious music by Mozart (although it should be noted that an instant cut from that to a disco scene leads into the song 'Hallelujah!'). The film ends with a coda that is perfectly judged, partly because it is not over-extended. It could be that some viewers who feel totally in tune with Mektoub, My Love will want it to go on and on. But, speaking for myself, I had decided some time before its close that the apt phrase to sum it up would be this: more is less.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Shaïn Boumédine, Ophélie Bau, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi, Delinda Kechiche, Kamel Saadi.

 

Dir Abdellatif Kechiche, Pro Abdellatif Kechiche, Screenplay Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalya Lacroix, freely inspired by the novel La blessure la vraie by François Bégaudeau, Ph Marco Graziaplena, Art Dir Michel Charvaz and Michelangelo Gionti, Ed Maria Giménez Cavallo and Nathanaëlle Gerbeaux, Costumes Catherine Sardi-Saule.

 

Jérôme Seydoux presents/Quat'sous Films/Pathé/France 2 Cinéma/Ciné +/Good Films  etc.-Curzon Artificial Eye.
181 mins. France/Italy/Monaco. 2018. Rel: 15 February 2019. Cert. 15.