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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
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
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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