A Timely Story of Forced Deplacement...with a Twist
The inimitable Niels Arestrup plays Jacques, who must leave The Ivory Coast, and the successful hotel he built there thirty years before, when a violent civil war breaks out in the country, threatening his business and survival. He brings his daughter Safi (Julia Coma) with him but must leave behind the girl's mother, an Ivory Coast citizen who disappears a few days before they are to leave for France. Once in Nice, Safi, failing to get into touch with her mother and perturbed by her new environment, looks to her father for comfort but finds him distant, as he is far too busy wrestling his own demons related to his sudden exodus from The Ivory Coast and return to France, which he now finds inhospitable and utterly devoid of opportunity.
Repatriation is an interesting starting ground for a movie and one that you don't encounter often, even though it has a deep resonance in France where the 1962 repatriation of Pieds Noirs from Algeria remains controversial. Furthermore, the story takes place at a kind of emergency housing in Nice for these French citizens of The Ivory Coast, creating a sort of dormitory-like environment for adults and children, and this too is engaging and unique. That said, the highlights of the story are the performances of Arestrup and Coma. Arestrup brings an enjoyable cragginess to the film. It's a lot of fun to watch him suffer, get drunk, dog-sit and express anger. But Ms. Coma's performance, her first in a feature film, is also commendable, as she plays an awkward and conflicted teen with skill, ultimately infusing her with an elegance that is both rare in an actress for her age and a joy to watch on the screen.
However, the film suffers from, at times, static and unnatural writing as well as direction that is unsure of itself. The film often seems slow, and you feel as if you are watching a director's first film, which you are. Simply put, Papa Lumière is not bad, but it's not great either.
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