• David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (22/7/2022)

(Reviews of Robust)


Despite rising Covid levels, it's safe(ish) to presume that cinema-going is still a thing - even in perilous temperatures. Thankfully, however, the UK's various streaming platforms are still doing sterling work. In addition to subscription sites like Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI, Netflix and the BFI Player, the likes of iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation are all ready to keep you entertained.


When there's only one film up for review in a weekly column, it gives the impression that the critic has been slacking. Especially in a week of furnace-like temperatures. Such a deduction could not be further from the truth, however.


In addition to Cinema Paradiso article on British cinema's music-hall stars, the last few days have also yielded a Radio Times review of Jean-Jacques Annaud's Notre Dame on Fire; some viewing notes on a film in post-production; a Sight and Sound review of Barney Douglas's McEnroe; and an Empire review of a film due for release in August.


Hopefully, if Saturday allows, it will be possible to provide Robust with some company. However, Sunday is already ear-marked for a Cinema Paradiso piece on Helen Mirren. And so, another week starts to slip away. With a little luck, however, Parky At the Pictures will be able to cover a few more titles next Friday.


ROBUST.


It's been an eventful few years in the life of Gérard Depardieu, with his off-screen antics often proving a distraction from the day job. But anyone requiring a reminder of what a fine actor he is need only catch Constance Meyer's directorial debut, Robust, which playfully riffs on the divo headlines, while also positing the importance of being comfortable in one's own skin.


Despite being a famous actor, Georges (Gérard Depardieu) is a bundle of insecurities. He claims to be suffering from tachycardia, but refuses to exercise or diet. His next picture is a period drama that turns on a duel, but he is reluctant to take fencing lessons. The father of a young son he rarely sees and the target of a kindly stalker who camps outside his apartment, Georges relies heavily on his security guard Lalou (Steve Tientcheu). However, he's just lost his father and he entrusts Georges to Aïssa (Déborah Lukumuena), a promising wrestler who is in the first states of a relationship with co-worker, Eddie (Lucas Mortier).


Cracking nuts with his fist while running lines, Georges tries to get used to Aïssa, who is efficient and unobtrusive. But she is also dutiful and follows him to a bar when he tries to slip out before a fencing class. She is also under pressure from his lawyer to ensure he completes the film, as his debts are mounting and he needs the cheque. So, she sits in as Georges is fitted for wigs and fights off the eco-muggers who attack him on a walk home from a bar. As she tells her teammate, Cosmina (Megan Northam), she likes him. But when he asks her to show him some of her wrestling grips, she pushes him away with a firm hand.


When young Gabriel (Théodore Le Blanc ) comes to stay, Georges takes him to choose a puppy and Aïssa is touched by how gentle he is with the boy. She agrees to eat with them and, stay the night, helps Georges overcome a panic attack with a relaxation technique used by her coach. Both Cosmina and Eddy are curious about her brush with a star, but she refuses to gossip.


Rehearsals start under director Nicolas (Sébastien Pouderoux), who is frustrated by Georges's struggle to focus in a scene with Emma (Georgia Scalliet). Over supper, Georges is amused to discover that Aïssa knows the entire script. He goes to watch her wrestle and Coach Adeline (Florence Janas) is furious with her for losing to an inferior opponent because she is starting to lose her anger.


When not with Georges, Aïssa meets up with her mother and young sister and listens to Cosmina's story about an opponent who licked her ear during a bout. Gabriel's mother won't allow him to keep the puppy and it falls asleep on Aïssa, as she watches TV with a dozing Georges. He finally attends a fencing lesson, but he finds it hard to take it seriously.


Alone that night, he watches the abyss fish swimming in their dark tank and finds beauty in their unusual looks. When he can't wake them up, he pretends he's lost his keys and gatecrashes Aïssa's date with Eddy. He asks if he loves her and, when Georges accuses Eddy of lacking the courage, Aïssa reprimands him for interfering in her life and storms out. She sulks in Cosmina's bar, while Georges invites Elvire the stalker (Florence Muller) for a drink, as he needs the company. He listens to something she has written about his presence in her life and they enjoy a mutual silence.


Next morning, Aïssa finds the puppy eating leftovers in the kitchen and fears Georges has had a heart attack, as she breaks down his bedroom door. He responds to a slap and reassures her he's fine, as she sheds a tear on the edge of the bed. She informs him that Lalou will be returning soon, as she has been assigned to a young politician.


After a brief panic when Georges goes missing in the grounds, the camera finally rolls on his Restoration saga. He bridles, as the make-up artist touches up his face and a costume assistant reties his cravat. Then, in character, he delivers a poignant speech that could equally apply to himself about having aged without noticing and while still feeling like a child.


Viewers of a certain age will feel the sting of this closing observation, as will those who have watched how Depardieu's physical transformation has impacted upon his acting over the years. He remains a captivating performer, but is superbly matched here by Déborah Lukumuena, as she retains a vigilant stillness that is entirely in keeping with her character's watching brief. Conveying much with her eyes, she exudes a self-possession, as well as an air of dignity, decency and good sense, that Depardieu's petulant, needy and careworn thespian has lost the knack of summoning after making so many poor decisions in both his professional and personal lives.


Writing with Marcia Romano, Meyer touches upon topics like ageing, body image, race, class and celebrity with such acuity that it rarely feels as though destinies are being shaped or serious issues are being raised. But, thanks to Simon Beaufils's perceptive photography, this metafictional odd coupling provides much to contemplate. Moreover, it leaves us wanting more. Dare we hope, especially as Meyer and Depardieu are clearly on the same wavelength after the shorts, Rhapsody (2018) and Private Eye (2018).




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