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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (16/7/2021)

(An overview of MyFrenchFilmFestival's free online Cannes special)

Since its launch in 2010, MyFrenchFilmFestival has consistently brightened the dark nights in the early part of the new year. This summer, however, the online event sponsored by UniFrance spoils viewers with a Cannes special that offers 12 features and 12 shorts absolutely free.

Frustratingly, neither Tessa Louise-Salomé’s documentary, Mr X, a Vision of Léos Carax (2014), nor Camille Vidal-Naquet's Sauvage (2018) has been made available to UK audiences. But they will still be able to enjoy the shorts: Marie Amachoukeli and Claire Burger's It's Free For Girls; Vincent Mariette's Man's Best Friend; Louis Garrel's The Little Tailor; Benjamin Parent's It's Not a Cowboy Movie; Clément Tréhin-Lalanne's Aïssa; Demis Herenger's Guy Moquet; Yann Delattre's Monsters Turn Into Lovers; Céline Devaux's Sunday Lunch; Marina Diaby's The Dragon's Demise; Antoine de Bary's Birth of a Leader; Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret's Chasse Royale; and Gabriel Harel's The Night of the Plastic Bags.

Rebecca Zlotowski has gone on to direct Grand Central (2013), Planetarium (2016) and An Easy Girl (2019). But she cames to Cannes with her debut feature, Dear Prudence (aka Belle Épine, 2010), a study of grief and rebellion that takes its cues from the realist dramas of Maurice Pialat and the Dardenne Brothers.

Mourning the loss of her mother, 17 year-old Prudence Friedman (Léa Seydoux) is arrested for shoplifting, but escapes without charge after hiding the purloined bracelet in her underwear. She is unaware that classmate Marilyne Santamaria (Agathe Schlencker) has slipped her contraband into her bag, but looks on intrigued as Marilyne rides away on the back of a motorbike. As her father has been detained on business in Canada and sister Frédérique (Anna Sigalevitch) has left home, Prudence invites Marilyne to her apartment and agrees to give her a key if she takes her to the bike races at Rungis.

Much to Prudence's annoyance, she fears she is going to miss the trip because Frédérique sweeps her off to dinner with their Jewish cousins, Daniel (Nicolas Maury) and Sonia (Anaïs Demoustier). She persuades Sonia to accompany her to Rungis, but is forced to go alone when Sonia ducks out. Prudence is entranced by Reynald Coste (Guillaume Gouix) and is reluctant to leave when Marilyne announces she wants to sleep with her boyfriend back at the apartment.

Despite chickening out of the nocturnal expedition, Sonia allows Prudence to dye her hair blonde for a party at the apartment. However, she leaves early after one of the bikers preys on her and she chastises Prudence for letting Marilyne dress her friends in her mother's clothes. Prudence also borrows her mother's red heels and wears them at a night race, which ends with her crashing on the beach with Reynald and his pals, Gerard (Michaël Abiteboul) and Franck (Johan Libéreau), who lends her his scarf.

On returning home, Prudence finds Frédérique waiting for her. But she can't bring herself to admonish her sister and they console each other for their loss. Prudence knows, however, that Sonia called Frédérique and they argue. Feeling the need for company, she seeks out Franck on the pretext of returning his scarf and they are about to have sex at the fish-gutting factory where he works when he loses his nerve. He rises to the occasion after they go to a concert, however, and Prudence is grateful over breakfast for the kind words of Franck's mother, Delphine (Marie Matheron).

Prudence's restless behaviour alienates Franck and he ignores her after she stands him up on a date. Nevertheless, she follows him to Rungis, where he crashes his bike and kills his female passenger. Alone at home, Prudence is visited by her mother, Arlette (Valérie Schlumberger), and apologises for not calling an ambulance after she fell ill. Wandering on to the balcony, she watches the sun emerge from behind a cloud as sirens tear through the morning stillness.

Zlotowski won the Louis Delluc Prize for Best First Film for this raw, if not always persuasive study of adolescent anguish. Léa Seydoux earned a César nomination for Most Promising Actress for a performance that did much to make her a star. Anaïs Demoustier also went on to bigger things, but the debuting Agathe Schlenker didn't take to the thesping life and hasn't acted in another feature since 2013.

For all the sureness of her direction (George Lechaptois 's widescreen photography has a gritty lyricism), Zlotowski struggles to prevent the screenplay co-written with Gaëlle Macé from lapsing into melodrama. Moreover, they fail to explain what attracts the non-empathetic Prudence to the Rungis crowd as a means to assuaging her guilt and, consequently, the scene in which she loses her virginity to Franck rings hollow.

Also on the Cannes Special slate is Christian Rouard's Leadersheep (aka Tous au Larzac, 2011), a worthy, if wordy account of the 11-year battle to prevent the farming region of Larzac to the south of the Massif Central from being turned into an enormous military base. President Georges Pompidou's Minister of Defence, Michel Debré, set the ball in motion in 1971 and hoped to remove the remaining 103 families from their property, in the mistaken belief that the area's Roquefort-producing agricultural heyday was behind it.

However, from the moment 6000 attended the first rally at the Place du Mandarous in Millau on 6 November 1971, a spirit of resistance began to emerge, as the struggle tapped into the mood of the May Days of 1968. Having sworn an oath in March 1972, Etienne Paloc, Pierre Bastide, and Pierre and Christiane Burguière joined veteran civil disobedience guru Lanza del Vasto on a 15-day hunger strike at La Cavalerie.

On Bastille Day, campaigners drove 70 tractors to Rodez and drew a crowd of 20,000 supporters. The numbers swelled to 60-100,000 for a major rally at Rajal del Guorp in August 1973, by which time the locals had been joined by left-wing activists, hippies and other alternative lifestylers, who threw themselves into purchasing small parcels of land to make if more difficult to secure convictions and renovating farm buildings so that the government couldn't accuse the Larzac of being on its knees.

The media was particularly taken by the reconstruction of the sheep shelter at La Blaquière. although the commune made the headlines for all the wrong reasons when Auguste Guiraud's cottage was blown up in the spring of 1976. Determined to find incriminating documents, activists broke into the army base on 22 June. Several were jailed, but none remained behind bars for more than three weeks.

Concerns were further raised when François Mitterand was pelted with stones by some militant Maoists in August 1974. But the public was won over again by a series of outdoor concerts that became known as `the French Woodstock'. On 25 October, a flock of 60 sheep was herded into Paris to graze on the Champ de Mars beneath the Eiffel Tower. A second march on the capital took place in December 1978, when 18 Larzac farmers walked the entire route in 25 stages.

With President Valért Giscard d'Estaing campaigning to make the base a reality, François Mitterand threw in his lot with the Larzac protesters and victory was finally achieved after another occupation of the Champ des Mars on 27 November 1980. Mitterand formally cancelled the base project on 10 May 1981.

Rouard is fortunate that José Bové, Léon Maillé, Pierre and Christiane Burguière, Marizette Tarlier, Michel Courtin, Christian Roqueirol and Pierre Bonnefous have such excellent memories. They also reel off their recollections with sincerity and unassuming charm, in between archive clips of the various initiatives in Larzac and demonstrations in Paris. But the conventionality of the approach does the speakers or their cause few favours.

Having impressed with the semi-autobiographical documentary, Her Name Is Sabine (2007), actress Sandrine Bonnaire found the critics harder to please with her debut fictional feature, Maddened By His Absence (2012). Co-scripted by Jerôme Tonnerre, the story centres on Jacques (William Hurt), a Boston-based architect who returns to France following the death of his father. The plan is to clear up his affairs, but he becomes fixated with Mado (Alexandra Lamy), who lives in a Parisian suburb with her seven year-old son, Paul (Jalil Mehenni).

Taking a shine to Paul, Jacques arranges to meet him in the storage cellar and they become playmates. A box of discarded possessions reveals the nature of Jacques's fixation, however, as he was once married to Mado and he has struggled to come to terms with the accidental death of their son, some nine years earlier. Her new partner, Stéphane (Augustin Legrand), doesn't want Jacques hanging around, but Mado appreciates the pain he's experiencing. Then, she discovers he has taken up residence in her basement.

Given that Bonnaire and Hurt have a daughter from a long-ended liaison, this is a tricky film to dissect. Hurt delivers a typically sincere performance and his scenes with young Jalil Mehenni are both delightful and disconcerting. But the narrative boxes them in more tightly than production designer Denis Hager's sets, which are artfully lit by cinematographer Philippe Guilbert. Consequently, each development feels more contrived and Bonnaire proves unable to prevent proceedings from collapsing into melodrama.

Since renowned for Disorder (2015) and Promima (2019), writer-director Alice Winocour makes her feature bow with Augustine (2012). She makes effective use of music by Arvo Pärt in chronicling the relationship between neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Landon) and Louise Augustine Gleizes (Soko), a kitchen maid (here aged 19, but actually 15 in real life) who was brought to the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris after suffering a fit while serving dinner in the winter of 1876.

Once suffering 154 episodes in a single day, Augustine was so demonstrative that Charcot used her in lectures to his students and peers and the press even began reviewing her appearances as though they were theatrical performances. However, while Charcot caused something of a stir by insisting that hysteria was a mental condition that owed nothing to uterine malfunction as was previously thought, his interest in his patient was not entirely professional and his wealthy wife Constance (Chiara Mastroianni) recognised the possessiveness of the rival for her husband's attention and strove to ensure that he associated with her primarily to raise funds for his research.

Featuring modern psychiatric patients discussing their cases direct to camera in period dress, this intelligent, but accessible treatise on psychology, gender and ethics is vastly superior to and played with considerably more restraint than David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method (2011) by Lindon and singer Soko (whose real name is Stéphanie Sokolinski). Having made an impression with the short Kitchen (2005) and her script contribution to Ursula Meier's Home (2008), Winocour more than confirms her talent, although she is ably supported by cinematographer Georges Lechaptois, production designer Arnaud De Moléron and composer Jocelyn Pook.

Five go mad in France in Antonin Peretjako's The Rendez-Vous of Dejà Vu (aka La Fille de 14 Juillet, 2013), which tempers the nouvelle vague spirit of Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rozier with some Pythonesque surrealism and a dash of Zucker-like slapstick. An opening sequence - in which events of past Bastille Day celebrations under Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande are given the Mack Sennett breakneck treatment - suggests a satirical intent. But this is not anarchic in the anti-authoritarian sense and winds up resembling a rattlebag of sketches rather than a linear narrative.

It all starts when Louvre attendant Charlotte (Marie-Lorna Vaconsin) introduces colleague Hector (Grégoire Tachnakian) to Truquette (Vimala Pons), who is first seen selling copies of the socialist newspaper La Commune on the streets of Paris. As the month-long summer holidays are approaching, Hector suggests they all head for the beach, along with her libidinous brother Bertier (Thomas Schmitt) and fake doctor, Pator (Vincent Macaigne).

However, before they have got very far, the government announces that the vacation period is being halved in a bid to help the economy and the quintet become separated and variously encounter eccentric quack Dr Placenta (Serge Trinquecoste), become involved in a shootout between some cops and robbers and wind up in a bizarre reworking of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis.

The cast of mostly unknowns plays every scene to the hilt, with Vimala Pons channelling her inner Jeanne Moreau as the engagingly coquettish Truquette. Vincent Macaigne also appeals as the bulkily bearded Pator. Peretjako hurls so many visual and verbal gags at the screen that the law of averages means that some will raise smiles. But not all of the humour travels well and cinéastes may be more intrigued by Simon Roca's giddying photography and the fact that the sound was recorded at the accelerated rate of 22.5 frames per second to make it seem more manic.

Medical emergencies dominate Thomas Lilti's sophomore feature, Hippocrates (2014). Drawing on his own experiences as the son of a leading doctor trying to make his way as an intern in a busy city hospital, Lilti makes sly references throughout this darkly comic tale to American TV series like House that romanticise healthcare by centring on brilliant physicians with irresistible bedside manners who overcome any staff or supply shortages in order to save the day and earn the awed admiration of their underlings and the undying gratitude of their patients. In striving to show that reality is infinitely more complex and markedly more deficient in happy endings, Lilti marbles the action with a vein of dark humour. However, he also allows the main story strands to descend into melodrama, with the result that this never quite compels or convinces as it should.

Twenty-three year-old Benjamin (Vincente Lacoste) arrives at the Parisian hospital where father Professor Barois (Jacques Gamblin) is a senior consultant and is presented with a stained white coat that is two size too big for him. He is shown around the wards by supervisor Denormandy (Marianne Denicourt) and quickly realises that life is going to be tougher than he had anticipated when he has to be helped to perform a lumbar puncture by fellow intern Abdel (Reda Kateb), an older and better qualified Algerian doctor, who he is forced to work his way up the French health system because of his nationality.

Unable to afford proper digs, Abdel lives in his room in the duty quarters, whose walls are daubed with a mix of politically provocative and sexually juvenile graffiti. Benjamin is amused when Abdel is sconced for talking shop over lunch and is surprised when he storms out of the dining hall when Stéphane (Félix Moati) hands down his forfeit. But he fails to appreciate how humiliating it is for Abdel to be treated like a novice when he has plenty of experience back home and is only in Paris to earn better money for the wife and child he rarely sees.

On duty that night, Benjamin jokes around with nurses Myriam (Carole Franck) and Guy (Philippe Rebbot) and is annoyed to be summoned from his bed to treat Tsunami (Thierry Levaret), a homeless man with cirrhosis who is complaining of abdominal pain. As the electrocardiogram is broken, Myriam suggests that Benjamin prescribes some painkillers and gets some sleep. But, when he wakes the following morning, he discovers that Tsunami has died of a heart attack in the night and Benjamin is taken aback when Denormandy orders him to lie about a benign ECG reading if anyone inquires about the case.

Although several colleagues joke about Benjamin losing his first patient so quickly, Abdel proves more sympathetic. However, his mood changes when Tsunami's estranged wife, Madame Lémoine (Julie Brochen), begins asking awkward questions and Benjamin informs her that her husband was being treated by Abdel when he died. His suspicions aroused, Abdel goes through the files for the ECG report and berates Benjamin for dissembling about his own incompetence and trying to pass the buck. Terrified of the truth embarrassing his father, Benjamin goes to see his father, who insists that medics stick together in such circumstances. Thus, he reassures Tsunami's widow that everything possible was done to save him and opines that such was the severity of a condition exacerbated by his own drinking that his demise was only a matter of time.

Relieved to be off the hook, Benjamin parties hard with Stéphane and the other juniors. But Abdel is singularly unimpressed with his behaviour and criticises him when he tries to avoid night shifts over the Christmas period. However, Abdel is also at loggerheads with Denormandy over the treatment of octogenarian Madame Richard (Jeanne Cellard), who is in such distress that Abdel requisitions a morphine pump from another ward so she can self-medicate her pain. She thanks him for sticking his neck out for her and begs him not to prolong her suffering. But, even though Abdel inserts a note advising against resuscitation, a paramedic unit led by Banik (Alain Dzukam Simo) brings Richard back from the brink after she suffers a cardiac arrest and Abdel is forced to endure an awkward conversation with her children (Thierry Gary and Isalinde Giovangigli).

Furious that Denormandy recommends the removal of the pump, Abdel forces her to witness the agony that Richard experiences without the morphine. He also persuades her children that it would be kinder to let their mother slip away. Benjamin concurs with Abdel's course of action. But, because it negates Banik's efforts to save the old lady, Abdel and Benjamin are charged with malpractice and summoned to a disciplinary hearing with senior management. Barois speaks up for them both, but Banik's superiors and hospital administrator Riou (Bertrand Constant), who has recently transferred from Amazon, find Abdel guilty and he knows his future prospects have been severely compromised.

Embarrassed by the nepotism that saved him and aggrieved by the injustice of the system, Benjamon gets roaring drunk and confesses to Madame Lémoine that he failed her spouse. Moreover, he causes a disturbance on the ward and threatens to jump from a ledge before charging down a staircase and into an oncoming car. Next morning, when Barois comes to inform his staff that Benjamin will be fine once his broken leg has healed, they challenge him and Constant about the broken ECG that had been weighing on his conscience. They also threaten to go on strike unless Abdel's demerit is removed from his record. As the film ends, Benjamin is starting work on a new ward and, while his new white coat actually fits, it is still deeply stained on the back.

Filmed with restless intensity by Nicolas Gaurin on wards familiar to Lilti from his own training, this laudable, but unadventurous saga sticks to the formula that has been serving screen medics well since Lew Ayres first essayed Dr Kildare in the 1930s. Lacoste brims with a fitful arrogance that contrasts effectively with Kateb's starchy integrity. But, while the Levaret and Cellard cases have their moments of intrigue, the denouement feels like something ripped from a mini-series rather than real life. Indeed, the easy way in which Gamblin and Constant buckle in the face of righteous fury rings so hollow that it threatens to drown out the pertinent points that Lilti makes about the living and working conditions that interns have to put up with while making momentous decisions under extreme duress.

The asides about the medical profession closing ranks to protect its own have little new light to shed. But more might have been made of the reckless socialising and the fact that so many young doctors are shown smoking. Lilti might also have dwelt longer on the fact that so many administrators lack medical experience and often try to run hospitals as they would a profit-making business. But the welcome bleak wit takes the curse off proceedings that tend to reinforce preconceptions rather than provide too much fresh insight.

Small-town provincial France is all too rarely depicted on screen, but the debuting quartet of Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, Marielle Gautier and Hugo P. Thomas take an unflinching look at the daily doings in a Normandy backwater in Willy the 1st (2016). Partly inspired by the life of non-professional star Daniel Vannet, this episodic saga follows 50 year-old Willy after he decides to relocate to Caudebec after his parents threaten to put him in a home following the suicide of his twin brother (also played by Vannet in translucent form).

Guided by social worker Catherine (Noémie Lvovsky), Willy slowly comes to terms with independence and his new job at a supermarket. But the locals aren't always friendly and his cause is hardly helped by his friendship with another Willy (Romain Léger), a peroxided cross-dressing workmate with plans to emigrate to Germany.

As graduates of Luc Besson's film school, the debutants show a keen appreciation of recent European screen styles, while cinematographer Thomas Balmès makes the most of the striking scenery. Well supported by Lvovsky and Léger, Vannet (who was illiterate until the age of 45) also impresses, as the genial lug struggling to fit in and realise his touchingly small dreams. Yet, while its insights into village insularity are well meant, this occasionally feels self-conscious in its left-field worldview.

Making his second feature after Robert Mitchum Is Dead (2010), music video specialist Olivier Babinet created his own brand of hybrid documentary in Swagger (2016). This centres on a housing project in the Parisian suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois to assess the hopes, fears and dreams of 11 youths living on the margins of society.

Photographed by ace Finnish cinematographer Timo Salminen, this mixture of vox pop and stylised dramatisation takes note of the difficulties facing banelieue kids. But this is anything but a sober-sided socio-political tract, as Babinet encourages Aïssatou Dia, Mariyama Diallo, Abou Fofana, Nazario Giordano, Astan Gonle, Naïla Hanafi, Aaron N'Kiambi and Elvis Zannou to express themselves freely, whether they are discussing colonial history, racial prejudice, immigrant insularity, school, friendship, romance or the future.

One girl dreams of winning the lottery, another about her family being shot, while another teen envisages a neighbourhood once known as a riot hot spot being attacked by aliens. Elsewhere, fashionista Régis N'Kissi imagines himself strutting his stuff to adoring gazes, while Salimata Gonle wonders what it might be like to be Barack Obama dropping bombs on his enemies and the umbrella-twirling Paul Turgot loses himself in a Gene Kelly-like dance routine. A few more films as committed and compassionate as this one and Marine Le Pen wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

Making her feature debut after graduating from Le Fémis and contributing to the screenplay of Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael's Ghosts, Léa Mysius demonstrates an impressive visual confidence that is partly explained by the fact that cinematographer Paul Guilhaume also doubles as her co-scenarist. But, while Ava (both 2017) continues to make evocative use of its settings on the Medoc coast in its discussion of alienated youth and the rising tide of right-wing sentiment in post-millennial France, the narrative becomes increasingly contrived, as the young protagonists go off on a crime spree as implausible as the one involving Anaïs Demoustier and Pio Marmaï in Isabelle Czajkas Living on Love Alone (2010).

As 13 year-old Ava (Noée Abita) is suffering from a condition known as retinitis pigmentosa that will eventually render her blind, single mother Maud (Laure Calamy) takes her to the seaside with the intention of having the best summer ever. However, Maud keeps asking Ava to keep an eye on her baby sister while she enjoys a holiday romance with Tété (Daouda Diakhate), a fast food seller she met on the beach. Bored with the sand-yachting lessons designed to keep her amused, Ava becomes intrigued by Lupo, a black dog that has befriended her on the sands and hides in a cupboard in the chalet, even though she knows it belongs to Roma boy, Juan (Juan Cano).

He is a bit of a tearaway and Ava is much more interested in him than the clean-cut Matthias (Baptiste Archimbaud), who is the son of the sand-yachting tutor and who asks Ava out on a date. Consequently, when she finds Juan nursing a stab wound behind the rocks in a deserted part of the shore, Ava sets about making herself indispensable to him, as she is tired of being mollycoddled by her well-meaning, but preoccupied mother. But Ava also sees herself as a mean girl and is happy to become Juan's accomplice when he gets hold of a gun and they start stealing from tourists in a reckless motorcycle rampage that culminates in a police chase through the marquees set up for a floodlit gypsy wedding.

Photographed on 35mm film - seemingly to contrast this exquisite, but increasingly obsolete format with Ava's fading eyesight - this is a consistently striking picture that is never afraid to experiment with colour, light sources and shades of black. Indeed, Paul Guilhaume is every bit a co-auteur.

But, while Mysius starts superbly with an extended long shot of various small dramas unfolding in a patch of crowded beach (in the area where Mysius grew up), she slowly loses control of the action as the focus switches from considered social realism to the more convoluted crime spree. She also starts making more conspicuous stylistic choices (including a resort to split screens) to reflect the exuberance of Ava and Juan's romance and thievery, while many will question the wisdom of depicting underage love-making so graphically.

These issues apart, however, Mysius channels Catherine Breillat and Andrea Arnold in directing with a combative assurance that is matched by newcomer Noée Abita, who shifts from filial resentment during her set tos with the ever-excellent Laure Calamy to adolescent adoration in the company of the broodingly handsome Cano. Editor Pierre Deschamps and composer Florencia Di Concilio also merit mention.

Completing the slate is Zabou Breitman and Éléa Gobbé-Mévellec's The Swallows of Kabul (2019), an animated adaptation of a Yasmina Khadra bestseller that was originally released in 3-D. Using filmed live-action scenes as a guide for the affecting visuals and a source of the earnest dialogue track, the co-directors convey the horrors of life under the Taliban regime, while also clinging to the essential human decency that allows ordinary Afghans to hope for better times.

It's 1998 and historian Mohsen (Swann Arlaud) and artist Zunaira (Zita Hanrot) live in cramped quarters in Kabul. She longs for the time when she could go out uncovered and hold hands with her lover. By contrast, the dying Mussarat (Hiam Abbass) wishes that husband Atiq (Simon Abkarian) would show a flicker of emotion.

He is a guard at the local prison and is beginning to have doubts about the strict rules imposed by his Taliban superior, Qassim (Sébastien Pouderoux), a hypocrite who revels in persecuting women while also patronising a nearby brothel. Atiq is also dismayed when his Mujahideen friend, Mirza (Pascal Elbé), urges him to get rid of Mussarat, as she is a burden on him. But he dotes on her and refuses to let her wait on him to save his fading strength.

By contrast, relations sour between Mohsen and Zunaira and she is terrified when they are stopped for laughing in the street by zealots who stand guard over her while Mohsen is forced to attend a sermon by Mullah Bashir (Serge Bagdassarian). The couple stop speaking to each other after he confesses to having participated in the stoning of a prostitute and, in a desperate bid to remove her borrowed burqa so he can see her face, Mohsen hits his wife, who pushes him and he strikes his head on the table and dies.

Zunaira is taken to Atiq's prison, where preparations are made for a mass execution at a Taliban rally in the city's football stadium. He catches sight of her face and instantly falls in love. Rather than be jealous, Mussarat is so moved by his sudden appreciation of female beauty and agrees to take Zunaira's place on Death Row. He is forced to accompany her to the stadium and is gunned down by Qassim when he discovers his treachery. Desperate to find the fugitive, Qassim starts pulling back the veils of the women in the crowd. But Zunaira has escaped and found refuge at a school dedicated to upholding traditional values.

Those familiar with the book may take exception to the changes made by Breitman and co-scenarists Sébastien Tavel and Patricia Mortagne in condensing the text. Others may have problems with the fact that Gobbé-Mévellec's graphic design resembles the distinctive watercolour style she had used on Joann Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux's The Rabbi's Cat (2011). Yet this remains a bold bid to tell an uncompromising tale whose righteous indignation is diluted into human tragedy.

While the visuals are arresting, the immediacy of the voiceover work that is potently complemented by the sound design of Eric Devulder, Pascal Villard, Bertrand Boudaud and Eric Tisserand and Alexis Rault's evocative score. Given the on-going troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, this timely revival is particularly pertinent and poignant.

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