Serge Frydman’s Maintenant ou Jamais (Now or Never) is a love story disguised as a thriller with a touch of social commentary thrown in for good measure. While there’s plenty of heat between the two main characters – Juliette (Leila Bekhti) and Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle) – neither the love affair nor the bank heist, which is the glue holding the story together, are given the room to develop and grow into one satisfying whole.
Bekhti is mother to a young family who are planning to move from their cramped apartment in Paris to a dream house in the country when husband Charles (Arthur Dupont) loses his job. The family cannot meet the mortgage payments on the house which is repossessed by the bank. Desperate to keep the house, Juliette decides to rob a bank and pay off the house loan. While coming home late one night from her job as a part-time piano teacher she is mugged by Manuel who steals her handbag. Given the chance to identify him as the thief in a police line-up, she lets him go only to enlist his help later in her plans to steal the money she needs. As the plans to rob the bank evolve, so do Juliette’s feelings for Manuel.
It’s an unlikely story for a thriller but one Frydman tells convincingly enough. The lead up to the bank heist is genuinely tense and highly credible with both the amateur bank robbers plagued with doubt and fear about the dangerous route they are about to take. But it’s difficult to grasp Juliette’s motives for turning to crime. She is in a loving marriage with two children she clearly adores which sits uncomfortably with a decision to risk it all based on her attraction to another man and her desperate need to keep a house. There are hints at a more deeply rooted discontent in Juliette’s life which is never explored and might have made her a more sympathetic character. Duvauchelle smoulders away as the silent, mysterious ex-con who gradually makes his way into Juliette’s heart, but the amount of screen time spent on the relationship is kept to a disappointing minimum leaving a definite sense of missed opportunity.
At just 30-years-old Bekhti already has a string of award winning films behind her including Tout Ce Qui Brille (All that Glitters), La Source des Femmes (The Source) and Un Prophète (The Prophet) in which she starred alongside husband Tahar Rahim. She more than holds her own against some of France’s best actors including Daniel Auteuil in Avant l’Hiver (Before the Winter Chill). Now or Never is not the best showcase for her undoubted gifts as an actor. After a while the anxious look that never leaves her face begins to grate and there’s the impression she’s not really stretched in the role of Juliette.