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COLCOA French Film Festival 2015: 'Un Homme Idéal' Review

Sara Itkis |
April 27, 2015 | 2:24 p.m. PDT


Movie poster at the DGA. (Sara Itkis/Neon Tommy)
Movie poster at the DGA. (Sara Itkis/Neon Tommy)

The basic plot of Yann Gozlan’s "Un Homme Idéal" (A Perfect Man) follows a predictable path: A young, struggling writer who seems to suffer from a chronic case of writer’s block steals the work of a dead man, is launched into success and fame, but is soon suffers the consequences as various loose ends return to trip him up.

However, it can be told from a different angle — one that is barely visited in the film but features significantly in its motivating factors. From this angle, the film is not a crime thriller as it may appear at first, but a love story: A young, struggling writer who seems to suffer from a chronic case of writer’s block stumbles into a class at the university where he works as janitor. The lecturer is a beautiful young scholar who is poetically reflecting on the power of smell, which is the strongest memory trigger of all five senses.

Mathieu (Pierre Niney), the young writer, falls in love. Later, while cleaning out the apartment of a dead man, Mathieu finds the diary of a draftee in Algiers from 1958, which he ultimately transcribes and publishes as his own. Suddenly rich and famous, the popular new author attends a book signing where he serendipitously meets Alice the professor (Ana Girardo) — and the rest is history. 

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Jumping forward three years, the two are married, staying with her parents on their grandiose beach estate in the south of France. Mathieu doesn’t get much of a chance to enjoy his new life of luxury. Already, he is plagued with angry calls from both his publisher and bank, demanding new work, cutting off his advances, and lamenting the sorry state of his finances.

Afraid of losing everything, Mathieu is quick to resort to increasingly extreme measures to put off book deadlines, ward off a mysterious blackmailer and silence the suspicions of his nosy brother-in-law (Thibault Vinçon).

Alice, who initially acts painfully chipper, begins to harbor suspicions of her own, but Mathieu temporarily alleviates her fears after a lovers' quarrel. “I just can’t lose you,” he croaks, leaning his head on the door that separates him from his beloved. His reflection stares back at him from the mirror that hangs there, and we can hope that perhaps, for a moment, he recognizes that the person he is really in danger of losing is himself. 

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The film jolts to a start with an alarming sequence, in which Mathieu, apparently experiencing a manic episode and unable to contain his emotions within the confines of the car, picks up speed and seems about to collide with a boulder on the side of the road. The screen abruptly goes dark.

The foreshadowing of this scene persists throughout the film, recalled in every driving sequence that follows; every self-sabotaging panic attack Mathieu experiences; every ironic line about talent, creativity and hard-earned success that his starstruck fans utter; every measure of heavy, generic string music, swelling with suspense and uneasy horn staccato. Seldom are we allowed to forget the imminent destruction of Mathieu’s fragile identity. As he digs his own grave deeper and deeper, the film begins to feel like a circular dance. An obstacle appears, Mathieu takes unprecedented action, the consequences return to haunt him — lather, rinse, repeat.

Unfortunately, Gozlan’s determination to out-suspense himself with every scene soon begins to summon more laughter than gasps from the audience. The film partially escapes its own banality through Mathieu’s subjectivity. The cinematography (Antoine Roch), comprised mainly of slow zooming shots and impressive wides, becomes suddenly unstable and fragments into jump cuts for the scenes in which Mathieu is losing it most. The color contrast that Gozlan employs marks the shift in Mathieu’s lifestyle, transitioning from a washed-out, brown palette into a beautifully saturated assortment of blues and greens that positively glow with sunlight. However, in his new environment, Mathieu’s increasingly green-grey complexion stands out as his guilt-ridden anxiety continues to grow. 

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The most powerful sequences blur the lines between reality and his subconscious. In one such scene, Mathieu is eating dinner with his in-laws when he is alarmed to see blood dripping onto the tablecloth. Looking up, he sees the blood leaking from the ceiling above. Beginning to panic, he is relieved to realize it is only his own nose bleed, and that he was simply having a bit of a “Tell-Tale Heart” moment. 

While we have no choice but to emphasize with the protagonist of "Un Homme Idéal," it is difficult to like him very much. He is consistently whiny and rude to his publishers, he steals from his own father-in-law, and he pathetically fakes a car-jacking in order to buy more time to work on his next book, which he doesn’t seem to have begun whatsoever.

At least his motivations are pure and rooted in his love for Alice. Perhaps if their relationship had any significant screentime or greater development this would be more believable and we could more easily invest ourselves in Mathieu’s fate. As it is, by the time the film ends the audience will likely be quicker to tell Mathieu “told you so” than to give him the comfort of a sympathetic hug. 

"Un Homme Idéal" opened the COLCOA French Film Festival at the Directors Guild of America. 

Reach contributor Sara Itkis here.



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