March 13, 2009
With a Little Help from Myself, 2008
Like Pierre Schöller's Versailles, François Dupeyron's With a Little Help from Myself similarly presents a portrait of the marginalized in contemporary France, in this case, the plight of immigrants and the elderly. Shot in yellow hues characteristic of African cinema, as well as vibrant, chaotic milieus and canted angles that invite comparison - albeit to the film's detriment - to Spike Lee's seminal film Do the Right Thing (complete with an aggressive, urban soundtrack and repeated shots of people trying to find relief from the blistering summer heat), the film's silver lining is found in actress Félicité Wouassi's charming performance as the indomitable Sonia, a role that runs the gamut from aggrieved wife to self-sacrificing mother to sympathetic companion to seductive enchantress (during the Q&A, Wouassi had commented that her acting experience before the film had been primarily theatrical, and was cast by Dupeyron after appearing as Mrs. Miller in Roman Polanski's stage production of John Patrick Shanley's play, Doubt in Paris). Ironically, in attempting to create a simple tale of working class life, Dupeyron resorts to familiar stereotypes, resulting in an unwieldy, over-contrived structure that paradoxically converges more towards fable than social realism: a sex-crazed best friend, an abusive, gambling husband (Mamadou Dioumé) who suffers a fatal heart attack only a few hours before their daughter's wedding, crotchety employers (with an added dose of racism for good measure), a lonely elderly neighbor (Claude Rich) eager for some excitement in his life, a drug-dealing son (Ralph Amoussou) who is arrested on the day of the wedding, a pregnant teen-aged daughter (Elisabeth Oppong), a self-destructive younger son (Charles-Etienne N'Diaye), a handsome suitor (Jean-Jacques Ido).