In his latest film, En Equilibre, director Denis Dercourt draws on his experience as a professional musicien to explore the nature of passion. The film is a hymn to perserverance and courage with a well-aimed jab at big business. It’s the subtle, sensitive tale of stunt rider Marc (Albert Dupontel) forced to give up his career after an accident puts him in a wheelchair and the insurance agent Florence (Cécile de France) sent to investigate his claim. Neatly avoiding the obvious, Dercourt focuses on Marc’s loss, not just of an income, but of the joy of working with horses and living his one true passion. Florence is mourning a different loss. She is resigned to a life behind a desk after giving in to self-doubt about her talent as a musician. Although there is no lack of sexual tension between the two, what they are seeking from each other is the strength to change direction and embrace a different life – one with greater depth and emotion. And Dercourt pulls it off with the astute casting of Dupontel and De France. They make an odd couple. He is wild-eyed and slightly manic while she radiates calm and elegance in her designer suits, high heels and neatly styled hair. But it works perfectly. Dercourt’s gentle film has no surprise twists or revelations- it’s simply a well-crafted, keenly-observed, uplifting work.
Marc earns his living performing daring equestrian shunts in action films. An accident on set means he will never walk again, let alone ride a horse. The insurance company advances the money to have his house adapted to his wheelchair-bound state while sending around Florence to convince him the accident was not the fault of the film company. Marc refuses to accept the sum offered to him, gradually the money stops coming and bills mount up. But Marc is determined to lead the life he loves and wants to ride again whatever the cost. Florence meanwhile, has given up a potential career as a concert pianist to concentrate on raising a family and working as an insurance agent. In Marc she meets someone who will fight to the bitter end to fulfil his dreams and she starts to see her own life from a different perspective.
Marc’s accident turns this inveterate risk taker and thrill seeker into someone who is unable to move without assistance. Although he is physically trapped by his disability, his biggest challenge is finding a way to channel his untapped energy. His determination acts as a wake-up call for Florence who is moved and inspired by Marc’s obstinacy and bravery. And there’s no holding back on the portrayal of the world of finance capital. It’s clear the insurance company is prepared to go to great lengths to avoid paying Marc the sum of money he is legitimately owed. The seducitve Florence is told to use her beauty as a way of softening Marc to settle his claim as quickly as possible. Staff meetings are organised to discuss how to apply pressure to reluctant claimants and their methods include cutting off all money until the claimant is backed into a corner. It’s not pretty to watch and rings sadly true.
Through Florence, Marc learns not all battles can be fought by sheer strength of will and he gradually realises he cannot stuggle on alone. It sounds like a recipe for a classic tear jerker, yet Marc’s complete lack of self pity and Florence’s immediate emotional connection to him through their shared love of music turns tragedy into triumph. Both actors worked hard to be convincing in the roles. Dupontel collaborated for five months with Bernard Sachsé, whose story forms the basis of the film, so he could perform the stunts himself. And it’s impressive. De France spent months learning to play the Franz Listz piano piece which is central to the film without ever having played piano before. Dercourt used music to great effect in 2007’s La Tourneuse de Pages.
After a mixed réception to his last two films, La Chair de ma Chair
and the German language Zum Geburtstag
(A Pact), En Equilibre
is a welcome return to more familiar territory for Dercourt.