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This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the November 15, 2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Film: Alone and The Little Thief

Somewhere near the middle of French director Erick

Zonca’s short film "Alone," Sophie, a young woman living on

the fringes of society, gives advice to Amelie, the film’s heroine,

concerning the proper technique for successful panhandling: "You

must look them in the eye. That’s the most important thing. Don’t

drop your eyes because they don’t look at you. You could die right

in front of them. They don’t give a damn."

That both women look like runway models — with a few well-placed

smudges added for "realism" — is beside the point. What

use is stunning beauty in panhandling anyway?

Zonca earned his reputation for what has been ballyhooed as "intensely

gritty depictions of adolescent angst doing battle in the underbelly

of urban cruelty" with the release of his 1998 movie "The

Dreamlife of Angels." The success of that film buoyed him into

the celebrated circle of international art-house filmmakers.

This year, following the same formula, he has released "Alone,"

a half-hour short made prior to "The Dreamlife of Angels,"

and the 65-minute "The Little Thief." Both films, which will

be screened Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18, at the New Jersey

Film Festival, portray typical adolescent umbrage with the world of

work. To the young people in these films, work is boring, and in both

films we are presented with adolescents looking for an easier, more

exciting, way to make money. In order to vary his formula somewhat,

Zonca focuses on a young woman in "Alone," and a young man

in "The Little Thief."

"Alone" tells the story of Amelie (Florence Loiret), a beautiful

down and out French girl with seemingly no past and evidently not

much of a future either. She promptly loses her job as a waitress

(due to a bad working attitude and an inability to show up on time)

and her apartment (because she has neglected to pay her rent). These

losses come as a surprise to her, and she rails at the injustices

of living in a society that should require such indignities in order

to live.

Suddenly, however, Amelie experiences what appears to be a windfall

of sorts, as a gun literally falls into her lap one day as she sits

moping in an alley below an open window. Much of the rest of the film

centers on her use, or non-use of this gun. People just don’t seem

to do what Amelie wants them to do, even if she’s waving a gun in

their faces. And, unfortunately for her, she can’t bring herself to

shoot the thing either.

"The Little Thief" is a mirror-image of "Alone," with

a dash or two of added testosterone. Esse (Nicolas Duvauchelle), a

dull young man with a hunky face, is fired from his job as an apprentice

baker, has sex with his girlfriend, and promptly embarks on a life

of crime that he hopes will be more exciting. Unfortunately for him,

crime proves to be as boring as being a baker. Soon he joins a gang

of rather meek looking toughs who hang out at a gym practicing their

boxing and robbing houses on the side. Crime has its hierarchy, too,

and Esse starts in the equivalent of the mailroom by being required

to clean up after the crime boss’s aging mother. Eventually he moves

up to keeping a watchful eye on the gang’s in-house prostitute, and

finally to chauffeuring the get-away car.

Due to a misunderstanding with one of the gang’s power brokers, Esse

is brutally sexually assaulted and shortly after that his throat is

cut while ambling down the street. Finally convinced that crime isn’t

his special talent, Esse returns to his life of mediocrity at the

bakery, perhaps with a new wisdom.

Despite being hyped as art house material, neither "Alone"

nor "The Little Thief" satisfy. Sporting high-gloss rock video

type camera work and peppering them with glamour shots of attractive

young actors strutting in various states of nakedness fails to hide

the fact that neither film has much to say. Both main characters are

too self-involved and insipid, it seems, to inspire our concern.

This is not to say that coming-of-age stories, even those that take

a cynical position, cannot succeed. The problem here is that Zonca

wants to have his cake and eat it, too. His films cannot be gritty

and pretty at the same time; nor can they be both uncompromising and

glamorous. He also needs actors capable of more than a frown, a grin,

or who grit their teeth when trying to look tough. Despite the attractive

actors and pleasing musicality of the French language, these films

strike me as TV movie-of-the-week material.

— Jack Florek

The Little Thief & Alone, New Jersey Film Festival

Scott Hall, Room 123, College Avenue Campus, New Brunswick, 732-932-8482.

$5. Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18, 7 p.m. The fall

festival concludes with Aleph, Robert Fulton’s multi-layered

silent experimental film of 1982, screened free at Borders Books,

East Brunswick, Wednesday, November 22, 7 p.m.

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