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Cinemania ’10 Reviews: ‘Sphinx, ‘A Night At The Club’ & ‘5 Brothers’

Cinemania '10 Reviews: 'Sphinx, 'A Night At The Club' & '5 Brothers'

Another roundup of reviews from Montreal’s Cinemania Film Festival. Check out out past installments here and here.

Sphinx” (“Gardiens de l’ordre”)
This Gallic police procedural might the worst example of the genre we’ve seen in eons. Directed by Nicolas Boukhrief and written by Boukhrief and Dan Sasson it would appear the two have never watched a halfway decent cop drama in their lives. We would rather sit through yet another spinoff of the rancid “CSI” series than come near this one again.

The film centers on two cops, Julie (Cécile de France) and Simon (Fred Testot) who decide to take matters in their own hands when the police department decides to treat the murder of their colleague with kid gloves when its revealed the perpetrator was the son of a congressman. It turns out the young man was high on a very powerful drug known on the street as Sphinx. We know it’s powerful mostly because it glows in the dark. Anyway, in a rather convoluted plot that we’re not going to bore with you here, Julie and Simon realize the only way they can avenge their partner is to start dealing drugs themselves which will somehow allow them to nail to the congressman’s son and clear their names (following the incident, they were assigned to desk jobs).

We’re not sure why or how the congressman has such pull that the murder of a police officer can be swept under the rug, or even why going undercover against orders to sling drugs will right judicial wrongs, but not much in the film makes sense. Filled with one-note villains, a train of logic that barely strings together and a story that gets increasingly ridiculous with each passing minute, “Sphinx” is the kind of drug/cop film made by people who have never taken or been around those who have taken drugs, coupled with a story that throws basic common sense and even common knowledge about police procedures out the window. Overwrought and edgeless, the only riddle “Sphinx” provides is just how bad it will actually get. [F],

A Night At The Club” (“Un soir au club”)
French films are often ripe for parody because at their worst and most clichéd they are just so, well, French. Case in point: we couldn’t help but chuckle when in the overwrought musical melodrama, “A Night At The Club,” a man and a woman rendezvous on the beach and she presents with him an electric razor to shave with, so his skin will be smooth prior to their brief lovemaking session in broad daylight. Only in a French film. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Based on the novel Christian Gailly and written and directed by Jean Achache the film follows Simon Nardis (Thierry Hancisse) who one evening after he’s done for the day on a job, accompanies a colleague to a local jazz bar where he proceeds to have a full-on nervous breakdown. You see, it turns out Simon was once a fairly acclaimed jazz pianist who even wrote a tune that many credited to the legendary Bill Evans. But booze took its toll and Simon walked away from the music scene until somehow, after one hour in this club, he’s once again drinking hard and playing harder. Of course, he begins an affair with a French chanteuse (Elise Caron) and promptly forgets about his wife and son all in the same evening. Again, only in a French film.

Over the next twelve hours or so unfolds the chronicle of a man whose self-absorption with his past and desire to sleep with a woman much more attractive than his wife lead to some tragic consequences. Achache’s intent is for us to sympathize with this man whose relationship to jazz is fraught with danger, but instead we witness a character whose actions seem to be motivated by little other than self-indulgence. This writer has a musician past (sort of), and sure, gets nostalgic about the old days, but just because we see a great concert at a club, it doesn’t turn us into an emotional, irresponsible mess who suddenly questions every good thing in our life.

Achache’s film is as silly as it is offensively manipulative, but its redeemed, somewhat, by the fantastic live performances and great music throughout.They salvage a viewing experience that otherwise hits a very flat and unconvincing note. [D]

5 Brothers” (“Comme les cinq doigts de la main”)
For a movie that promises five protagonists it’s too bad there isn’t a single plot thread of interest to follow.

With three credited screenwriters and directed by Alexandre Arcady, it’s not a surprise that out of the gate, the film is tonal mess. The picture begins by crosscutting between a breathless motorcycle chase with dramatic music, to a wacky comedy as we get introduced to four of the five brothers, and their extended family, as they gather for a funeral of a family member. Of course, the man in the separate chase scene is the black sheep sibling who has been out of the picture for years and naturally, he comes back into their lives and brings with him a whole world of trouble.

Once the picture settles in, it reveals itself to be an attempt to make a sweeping family/crime drama focusing on a longstanding blood feud between two families. Unfortunately, with only two hours to tell the tale everything gets short shrift. The brothers are reduced to stock stereotypes: the exile, the intellectual, the religious one, the gambler and the one suffering a marriage crisis. There is just too much plot for Arcady to deal with and none of it is particularly compelling because we’ve seen these tropes done in other films with more depth and insight.

So no wonder then, that the film’s climax is a somewhat amusing muddle. Arcady doesn’t really know how to close things off so we get a voiceover narration to wrap up the loose ends, a death and then a slow montage of closeups on all the key characters before the credits roll with music swelling over top. It’s almost as if Arcady hit a wall and just decided to throw every trick he had into the mix in the hopes that one would stick. Nothing really does and “5 Brothers” gives us an elaborate setup with little in the way of a payoff. [D]

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