Here's an older review of mine.
PETITS FRERES (1999)
Jacques Doillon is considered as one of the most important post-New Wave filmmakers in France, but his name barely registers with even the more ardent of cinephiles in the U.S. However, it wouldnt be fair to blame them because less than 10% of his output, that includes more than 30 features along with many documentaries and shorts, has made it to our shores. And its quite difficult to come up with a substantial reason why that is. It could be said that big names that are required to sell a film abroad are missing from most of Doillon's oeuvre. Also, unlike a filmmakers such as Benot Jacquot, he usually doesn't make "pretty films," even though both filmmakers prefer emotional and psychological complexity in their narratives, while often focusing on youth and sexuality. So, with that in mind, Doillon could be compared to Philippe Garrel, an expert in showcasing the most ordinary and mundane aspects of life in an ordinary and mundane manner, but stylistically hes closer to filmmakers like Andr Tchin and John Cassavetes, the latter being someone hes said to have been influenced by.
Doillon, 61, has been a subject of various cinema studies in Europe. Marin Karmitzs MK2 has devoted high-end DVD box-sets (unsubtitled) to his work with kind words from admirers ranging from the aforementioned Garrel to the likes of Olivier Assayas and Frdric Mitterand. While Doillons best early-to-mid period films like Les Doigts dans la tte (1974), La Femme qui pleure and La Drlesse (1979), La Vie de famille (1985), Le Petit criminel (1990), Le Jeune werther (1993) etc. arent available in the U.S. in any format, his very popular and thus most recognizable feature, Ponette (1996), is, along with Petits Frres (1999) and his most recent effort, the brilliant cross-cultural romance Raja (2003). After reviewing his latest for Film Comment, Phillip Lopate called for a full-scale retrospective of Doillons work -- something which shouldnt have to be said.
Released in 2001 in the U.S., Petits Frres ("Little Fellas"), joins an array of recent French films that are set in the "banlieus" (the projects). However, what distinguishes this effort from most others is its representation which lacks a subjective point-of-view -- a notion bound to divide audiences, and it has, but Doillon has never been one to follow conventional wisdom. Our protagonist in this docu-drama is a 13-year-old Talia (Stphanie Touly), a tough young girl who runs away from her apartment after her stepfather shows up again. Talia suspects that he has molested one of her friends so she is scared for herself and a younger sibling. On her way to getting a gun from a neighborhood dealer, she ends up confronting but ultimately befriending some "little fellas," usually seen engaging in petty crimes while waiting for their chance to move up. Talia (and perhaps the film) loses track when her dog is stolen, so her quest now also involves bringing back her beloved pet. Shot in a realistic manner with most of the actors being locals of the neighborhood, Petits Frres offers a raw view of the world without setting any parameters around it. The activities of the kids arent judged in any manner, nor are they presented as more or less intelligent than they actually are. Doillon has always been good with young actors (Ponette is prime example) so his talent acquits itself extremely well in this situation. Much like its petite criminals, the film drifts aimlessly at times, quite possibly by design to showcase their lives. Only the ritualized ending seems a little forced in this otherwise naturalistic film.
*The film is available on DVD in the U.S.