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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Games of Love and Chance (L'Esquive)
Directed by Abdel Kechiche
New Yorker Video 03/05 DVD/VHS Feature Film
It takes a lot of energy to survive in an urban ghetto. Danger is always close at hand along with the deprivations associated with poverty. You can meet these challenges by shouting in anger and strutting proudly in the midst of the violence and tension. Or you can retreat into yourself and reside in silence. The fifteen-year old protagonist of this French film has done the latter. This vibrant and unusual coming-of-age story is set in the Franc-Moisin projects outside Paris. Director Abdel Kechiche has come up with a very creative and well-acted story about the vitality of desire as an animating force that can bring both gratification and frustration, sweetness and bitterness, pleasure and pain. In the 2005 Cesars, the French equivalent to the Academy Awards, this film was the big winner as Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Female Newcomer.
Krimo (Osman Elkharraz) lives at home with his mother (Mereim Serbah). His father is in prison but manages to send him tokens of his affection in the form of watercolor sailboats. Krimo's moodiness and lack of emotional expressiveness compels Magalie (Aurelie Ganito), his girl friend of two years, to end their relationship. Then out of the blue, he catches a glimpse of Lydia (Sara Forestier), a blonde beauty he has known for years, standing in a shop in a fancy dress styled like the eighteenth century that she will wear in an upcoming school play, A Game of Love and Chance. Krimo sees her afresh for the first time. and he is swept off his feet. He gives her a loan to help her pay for the dress, and she invites him to accompany her to the park where she is rehearsing the play. When they arrive, Frida (Sabrina Quazani) is upset that Lydia is so late and even more angry that she has brought an unannounced guest. Krimo watches as Rachid (Rachid Hami) plays the Harlequin opposite Lydia. Later, this deliriously in love youth gives Rachid a radio, some sneakers, and other things from his stash of stolen goods in exchange for dropping out of the play and allowing him to play the Harlequin.
Watching the shy and awkward Krimo rehearsing the play with Lydia, we sense immediately that he has taken on a project that is far beyond his capacity to sustain. She tutors him about stepping into the character and expressing himself more forcefully. But it is to no avail. When Krimo lunges to kiss her, they both fall to the ground, and Lydia is stunned by what has happened. He tells her that he wants to take her out but she says that she'll have to think it over. In school, where they are forced to rehearse the play in front of their alternately bored and curious classmates, the teacher (Carole Franck) does her best to draw out Krimo's emotions and to help him stop mumbling. All of this pressure proves to be a tremendous burden and his ardor begins to wane.
Meanwhile, his buddy Fathi (Hafet Ben-Ahmed) is shocked that Krimo no longer seems to be hanging out with his buddies. When he learns that his best friend has fallen for Lydia, he decides to take things into his own hands. The result is a nasty encounter with the hot-tempered Frida and a meeting that brings Lydia and Krimo together. Sadly that rendezvous is interrupted by some very aggressive police who do not like ghetto youth and treat them with an excessive force.
Tunisian-born director Abdel Kechiche has depicted the lives of these Muslim youth who come mostly from North Africa in a startling way that gives a stark portrait of their yearning for love, community and friendship in a forbidding and alien urban environment.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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