VENICE 2001: "Loin" Away, So Close; Techine's Trip to Morocco
by Patrick Z. McGavin
(indieWIRE/09.06.01) — Andre Techine is among the most fascinating figures of the post-New Wave generation of French filmmakers. Like his seminal predecessors, Techine began as a critic at Cahiers du Cinema, and his work has often explored moviemaking as a means of executing the theoretical concepts of his writing. His best films (“The Wild Reeds,” “Thieves“) have a poetic beauty and a novelistic construction with shifting points of view and fractured time, suggesting the influence of William Faulkner.
His new feature, “Loin,” shot on digital video, has an extraordinarily vibrant and voluptuous physical texture. The movie does not quite attain the level of Techine’s finest work; there is a loose, discursive factor, an uncertain integration of several of the supporting characters into the central framework that prevents it from fully taking flight. Still, it is a solid, moving piece that traffics in the director’s trademark themes: family relations, irreconcilable sexual entanglements, the allure of criminal activity.
With this film, Techine works primarily in natural light, and the slightly patchy, almost off-center look of the video image contributes to the sense of collapse and unease. (In the director’s notes, Techine said shooting on DV was purely economic). The film is told in three “movements”; set over three days in Tangiers, the sections marked by chapters. The typically romantic, stylized setting has been stripped down to its purest form, a squalid, nightmarish milieu of drug dealers, black market operatives, travelers and expatriates. Like “Wild Reeds, ” the essential story is a triangle, though the sexual and personal dynamics have been altered. Serge (Stephane Rideau) is a truck driver who imports cloth to Morocco and delivers high priced, stylish luxury clothes to France. The movie opens with his return to Tangiers, where he succumbs to the seductive criminal subculture, dangerously agreeing to smuggle hashish out of the port city.
Serge’s return ignites his smoldering, complicated relationship with Sarah (Lubna Azabal), a beautiful, independent young woman mourning her recently dead mother who operates a small hotel. Her successful brother, a Canadian emigre, has dispatched his wife (the playwright Yasmina Reza) to help her close the hotel and resettle in Canada. Sarah agonzies over the decision because of her inchoate, irrational attraction to Serge. The third dominant character is Said (Mohamed Hamaidi), Serge’s companion and a worker at the hotel. A former street performer, Said desperately seeks to escape his restricted background and avidly longs for the possibility and intrigue of life beyond Africa. The closing of the hotel only intensifies his need to begin anew.
With “Loin,” Techine tactfully renders the confusion and desperation occasioned by these personal dilemmas into a larger canvas of cultural dislocation, identity and friendship. He makes explicit that personal destiny, freedom and happiness are a function of choices made and ignored. In moving between the stories of his three principle actors, Techine and his collaborators, writers Fraouzi Bensaidi, Michel Alexandre and Mehdi Ben Attia, establish both an emotional immediacy and painful confusion that shrewdly captures the intensity of feeling between them.
The movie falters when it attempts to enlarge its central triangle, in particular the movie’s most problematic figure, a gaunt, defeated American expatriate named James (Jack Taylor) whom Techine said all of his dialogue was taken verbatem from an interview by Paul Bowles. Gael Morel, the star of “Wild Reeds,” and the director of “Full Speed,” plays a character based on himself, an actor and director caught up in the travails of the characters. Unfortunately, these characters fracture rather than expand the material, detracting from the movie’s power and beauty. Techine recovers with a fantastic conclusion, a quiet, devastating image of release and exultation–mixed with uncommon sadness.