Un Début Prometteur, Emma Luchini’s second full-length feature is a family affair. Based on the novel by her partner author Nicolas Rey and with father Fabrice in one of the lead roles, this tragi-comedy has top class credentials yet struggles to get into its stride. Casting comic actor and stand-up comedian Manu Payet against type as the alcoholic, drug-taking, chronically disillusioned Martin is a master stroke and when does Fabrice Luchini ever disappoint? But the pathos is too heavy-handed and the lighter moments lack conviction. Without Fabrice Luchini’s deadpan delivery and unparalleled ability to find comedy in the least likely places, Un Début Prometteur would slip by unnoticed in the wealth of excellent French films (Marguerite, Dheepan) currently in cinemas.
Martin (Payet) returns to the family home and takes up residence in a mobile home parked in his father’s garden. His younger brother Gabriel (Zacharie Chasseriaud) is delighted to have Martin back and soon drags him into his plan to seduce Mathilde (Veerle Baetens), an older woman he has fallen madly in love with. Mathilde is not a great companion for a 16-year-old adolescent. She is a compulsive gambler who is seriously in debt. Yet her risk-taking and rejection of social conventions begin to pull Martin out of his drunken stupour and awaken his long-dormant zest for life.
Gabriel’s coming-of-age is definitely the most successful storyline. Chasseriaud fluctuates convincingly between love-struck adolescent and fledgling man-of- the-world and Mathilde’s attraction to this oft-times gauche individual is highly credible. Less so is Martin volte face when it comes to relationships. There’s a lot to like about Mathilde. Her tough exterior which almost but not quite hides a sensitive, artistic soul and Belgian actress Baetens can certainly belt out a song. Whether this combination is sufficient to melt the heart of a dyed-in-the-wool cynic like Martin is far from clear. This female character was not in the original novel and it begs the question why Luchini, who co-wrote the script with Rey, decided the story needed this extra dimension. As the title suggests, this is a promising start for Luchini who is possibly still finding her feet as a director.