Using an area’s name as a title for a movie might be an indication of directorial confidence, but it may also suggest a filmmaker trying to bite off more than they can chew. How does one portray a district with all its quirks and vibrancies? That’s the question Modi Barry and Cedric Ido must have asked themselves while making their debut feature La vie de Chateau. Presented in the 1-2 Competition at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, the picture feels like a faithful portrayal of everyday life of working-class people living nearby Chateau d’Eau metro station in Paris. The film’s fast pace, witty dialogues and freaky story may attract some viewers, but Chateau’s lack of narrative cohesion will be off-putting for those who just wanted to feel the pulse of the neighbourhood.
Charles (Jacky Ido) is a thirtysomething self-described entrepreneur, the head of a bunch of men whose job is to promote a local beauty salon to women passing by. With the younger guys from the street looking up to him, we observe his admirable king-of-the-pack position, while his burst of anger when he discovers that his supposedly one-of-a-kind jacket is just a regular, worthless rag shows his overzealous care for elegance and class. He’ll find himself in a bit of a trouble when his employees start questioning his authority and the salon’s manager schemes to replace him with another street solicitor, Bebe. A conflict arises as Bebe’s style of doing business (he’s more into sporty tank tops than fancy shirts and jackets) is different to Charles’. The looming beef has its moments, but at some point the motif completely disappears. Much like other plotlines in the film, it stays unresolved.
Other inhabitants of Chateau are depicted with little to no nuance. There’s the owner of the salon, Dan, who asks Charles to spy on his wife and see if she’s cheating on him; there’s Moussa, trying to convince Charles to do business with him. Some bits and pieces are presented as a backstory for the characters, but the rapid jumping from one person to another makes it hard to focus and care for either of them. There’s a compelling dynamic between Charles and a Kurdish barber, whose salon the main protagonist wants to buy. Barry and Ido offer an interesting take on the lives of Parisian immigrants, juxtaposing the Kurdish poet as an exiled man unable to cope with the happy-go-lucky Charles, who roams the city as a proud Parisian.
The movie’s upbeat and playful atmosphere may attract some viewers wanting to take a break from more serious works on the festival circuit, but its predictability and lack of clear structure makes it hard to say what the directors were getting at. Playing it safe is not Charles’ modus operandi, but the directors didn’t follow his style and took an easy way out framing the film as a comedy of errors, where coincidences spring up like mushrooms and one bad decision leads to another.
At times, the score is perhaps too hammy, trying to suggest to the audience when to laugh. The mostly hand-held camera diligently follows the characters, offering us a lot of close-ups on actors’ faces, while not that much time is spent on the streets, which is an odd choice for a movie about a city’s area. But then, what’s a neighbourhood without its inhabitants? Just a few blocks of flats indeed.