|© 1997-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
Two foreigners on the open road, searching for love and adventure. This
could be the summary of countless features. And, in part, that is what rising
French filmmaker Manuel Poirier wants the audience to think with his fourth film
Western. As the title implies, one is to recall the numerous stories previously
seen and apply the conventions to this tale with a twist. Instead of two
gunslingers, we have a shoe salesman and a hitchhiker. The scenery is not the
vast expanse of the United States but Brittany. And we are decidedly in
contemporary France. How one reacts to this film will be governed by one's
willingness to accept old-fashioned ideals in these more jaded times.
At its premiere at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, Western earned the
Grand Jury Prize (which is essentially for Best Direction). It went on to receive
several nominations for the César, the Gallic equivalent of the Oscar, although
it only snagged one award for its jaunty score. What modern audiences may
have trouble with is accepting the relationship between the two central
characters. Unfortunately, as that is the heart of the film, if one fails to buy
into it, then one cannot expect to enjoy the film. Granted, it does stretch
Paco (winningly played by Sergei López, who looks to be the love child of
Alfred Molina and Andy Garcia) is driving along and stops to pick up a pretty
hitchhiker. He's not going near where she is, but she calls over a ragamuffin
male Nino (Russian actor Sacha Bourdo in his film debut). Nino tricks Paco into
getting out of the car at a rest stop and takes off in the vehicle. Paco is
rescued by Marinette (Élisabeth Vitali), a lively woman with whom he
immediately falls in love. After spotting Nino on the street and beating him,
Paco has a change of heart and visits him in the hospital. Marinette feels their
relationship is moving too fast and suggests a trial separation. Nino invites
Paco to join him on his travels throughout Brittany and the pair embark on a
road trip on the west coast of France. Along the way, they become rivals and
Poirier uses humor to drive home his points but the film may be too
slow-paced for some audience members. The director is raising several issues
without being heavy-handed and for that he should be commended. Questions
of national identity, the nature of love and sex arise. The darkly handsome
Paco has a charming ease with women while the diminutive Nino tries gamely
but mostly wallows in self-pity. Certainly each has something to teach the
other and by the final reel the lessons have been learned.
Everything is neatly tied together by the final reel and that is one of the
film's weaknesses. Here we have essentially two foreigners moving in what is
supposed to be a conservative area of the country but everyone they encounter
(with the exception of a farmer who hires them to cut a tree) seems to accept
them without pause. They meet a paraplegic African from the Ivory Coast who
shows them how to play a game called "Bonjour la France". You say "Bonjour"
and see what kind of reaction you get; if you get a reply, you score a point.
Responses run the gamut from pleasantries to one nasty "Go back to your own
country." That's the extent of the unpleasantness in the film.
The saving graces are the leading performances. The husky López is a
regular in Poirier's films (in fact, the director has vowed to find a role in every
one of his films for the actor even if it is a walk-on) and delivers with the
necessary charisma; one can easily believe this is a lady-killer. Bourdo has the
harder role, the schlubby sidekick, yet this film novice proves a strong screen
presence. Resembling a modern day Laurel and Hardy (or Abbott and Costello),
the pair interact well. It's a shame that the set-up of the piece feels so
MPPA Rating: None
Running time: 124 mins.