Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, one of the greatest of French playwrights, probably wouldve never imagined that his work will one day be rehearsed in Parisian housing projects even though it has always been ripe for such an experience. After all, most of his plays from the 18th century give much importance to the secondary characters the kind that are usually glanced over in historical theater, and as Abdellatif Kechiche, the director of a riveting new French film LEsquive said, "With Marivaux, the valets, maids, peasants and orphans not only play important roles in the story, theyre also attributed an inner life, an interiority and nuances of feeling. They do not only play a social role. They become men and women with the right to a complex psychological make-up." And with that in mind, Kechiche has crafted a film which not only displays an abundance of socio-political intelligence, but its fascination with language is just as intense as Marivaux's.
Set in Franc-Moisin projects at the outskirts of Paris, L'Esquive vividly showcases its characters -- the main one being Adelkrim (Osman Elkharraz), a 15-year-old otherwise known as Krimo, who unlike most of his boisterous "homies" usually keeps to himself. His father is in jail and the mother is mostly absent. His apathetic behavior is the reason why his girlfriend has broken up with him. But soon after, he runs into a lifelong friend, a beautiful blond named Lydia (Sara Forestier) who is roaming the "banlieus" with an angelic pretense. The reason being that she is the lead in the school play based on Marivauxs "Le Jeu de l'amour et du hazard" ("Games of Loves and Chance"), and for that reason shes donned on an 18th century costume. Krimo is instantly smitten, but cant put two words together to express himself; instead, he lends her some money for the dress and gets an invitation to watch her rehearse in return.
The French title "LEsquive," which is a fencing term for "dodging," perfectly suits Krimo. Thats what hes been his whole life. On the other hand, Lydia is tough and self-sufficient. She has to be because shes the minority in this neighborhood being overrun by low-income Arabs and North Africans. In the Marivaux play being rehearsed, shes the recipient of a declaration of immortal love from a young man. Krimos friend, Rachid (Rachid Hami), is playing that man named Harlequin so that gives our lover boy an idea. He bribes Rachid with a few minor goods to he can take over as the lead. Many are surprised, including Lydias fiery friend, Frida (Sabrina Quazani), who is playing a maid in the play, not to mention their drama professor. Krimo stumbles and mumbles with the overbearing dialogue during in-class rehearsals, eventually drawing the ire of the professor who once claims, "the way you express yourself, tells others where you are from." Lydia agrees to help Krimo out with private lessons and that provides him with the perfect opportunity to proclaim his own love. But the Games have only just begun.
The Tunisian born Kechiche started off as an actor in a film called Le Th la menthe (1984). He courted success with roles in Andre Techines Les Innocents (1987) and Nouri Bouzids Bezness (1992) (hell also appear in the upcoming drama called Sorry, Haters with Robin Wright Penn and Sandra Oh). Kechiche wrote the screenplay for L'Esquive over a decade ago but wasnt able to get financing. He wanted reality but didnt want to follow the route that films set in the those neighborhoods usually take. L'Esquive is raw and poignant due of its language, not because of drugs or weapons. Kechiche expertly contrasts the "marivaudage," the bantering thats ever-present in Marivaux, with "verlan," slang which sounds like rap and is delivered with confounding accents. The multiple heated arguments in the film that are littered with threats eventually develop their own rhythm and poetry. And thats the mode of communication available to these urbanites caught underneath the towering gray buildings that surround them. Unfortunately, for Krimo this mode also represents a challenge.
Winner of 4 Csar Awards (French "Oscars") including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Best Female Newcomer (Forestier), L'Esquive is shot with a Dogme-like aesthetic by Kechiche. His camera dances rhythmically with the performers, zooming in-and-out, channeling itself with the energy of the participants yet never drawing attention to itself. The seemingly never-ending arguments are remarkably played out by the actors with not a false moment in them, and Kechiche at times gets lost with them. Yet its his editing skills in the one sequence which does feature a confrontation with the authorities that makes it that much more harrowing to watch. Osman Elkharraz with his hang-dog face is perfect as the dreamy Krimo. Sara Forestier deftly switches between being a cultured leading lady of Marivaux and acting as just another bitch of the banlieue; French cinema doesnt exactly lack young female talent but this ball-of-fire might be someone special. Most of the actors in the film are newcomers, and Kechiche didnt want to betray them or the milieu in any way. He certainly hasnt; instead, hes given us a relevant and timeless tale of youth, language, culture, identity, and, above all, love.