Sami Bouajila excels in Pascal Rabaté’s Du Goudron et des Plumes, a touching morality tale set in provincial France which glances against several contemporary issues while retaining a sense of humour and a keen eye for the absurd. It’s a simple story, simply told which emphasises the frailty of human nature while laying out a good case for the power of forgiveness.
Bouajila is Christian, a employee for a small firm selling anti-pest treatments. He is divorced and lives alone, doting on his only daughter Vanessa (Talina Boyaci) with whom he spends every other weekend. Vanessa is a member of the local baton-twirling group and, while watching one of their rehearsals, Christian meets Christine (Isabelle Carré) the pregnant mother of one of Vanessa’s team mates. The two begin to fall in love as Christian realises how lonely he has become. To please his daughter, he agrees to take part in the region’s annual, televised triathlon competition and quickly establishes a set of friends amongst the local team. But his past mistakes soon catch up with him, putting his new life in danger.
Stylistically Du Goudron et des Plumes owes much to Rabaté’s background as a writer of the bandes dessinés so much loved by the French. The small town setting verges on the surreal – odd sculptures on out-of-town roundabouts, Christian’s company car with an enormous insect stuck to the roof. And many of the industrial and residential buildings are block-coloured in primary reds and blues. Rabaté perfectly captures the atmosphere of provincial France where people lead low-key, routine lives highlighted by local sporting events and amateur music festivals. One scene in particular is pure Jacques Tati as Christian faces-off with his neighbours as he mows the lawn at the weekend.
While Bouajila almost steals the show with his subtle, underplayed Christian, he is ably assisted by a cast of well-drawn secondary characters. There is Carré as the vulnerable, shy Christine. and Daniel Prévost, a Rabaté regular, as Christian’s father Kader. Some of these characters provide Rabaté with the opportunity to introduce a note of malicious humour. Christian’s brother Patrick (Zinedine Soualem) is a manic depressive who runs a fancy dress/joke shop while the trialthon team coach (Charles Schneider) is unathletic and overweight.
Rabaté’s last film, Ni a Vendre, Ni a Louer (Holidays by the Sea
), earned him the prize for best director at the prestigious 2011 Karlovy Vary Film festival in the Czech Republic. And Du Goudron et des Plumes
was in competition for the Crystal Globe, the coveted top prize at this year’s festival. Unfortunatlely, it was beaten to the winner’s post by Simindis Kundzuli’s Corn Island.
DIRECTOR’S BIO – PASCAL RABATE