by Anthony Harrison
Patchwork Family screens today at 4 p.m. at A/perture 1 as part of RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem.
An exasperated man with curly salt-and-pepper hair wearing a blue tank top clutches seemingly for dear life to a pole painted the exact same color as his shirt. A crowd dressed in red and blue, out of focus, stands far below on the pavement to his right. Close in to an adolescent girl, watching with rapt, worried attention. There is no crowd noise, though — atmospheric, tonal music serves as the soundtrack. There’s a strange but serious dreaminess to the composition.
And then you see the scene broadcast on television.
An atypical opener for a comedy. But Patchwork Family is no typical comedy.
The man, Christian (Sami Bouajila), sells termite treatments. He’s something of a pest himself — bitter, dishonest, divorced; pounding cheap scotch, bullying neighbors and womanizing.
But scratch the surface of a cynic, and you’ll find a romantic.
He adores his intelligent, baton-twirling daughter, Vanessa (Talina Boyaci), doting on her and encouraging her friends. And he quickly falls for the pregnant, single mother of one of Vanessa’s friends, Christine (Isabelle Carré).
Cue the impetus for self-improvement.
Christian reluctantly joins the town’s summer triathlon after upsetting Vanessa. Following the encouragement and support of his community, he takes it on as a way to redeem himself not just in Vanessa’s eyes, but his own.
Patchwork Family draws on traditions of French comedy in fresh ways, making these cinematic allusions its own. Director Pascal Rabaté highlights ordinary people and scenarios, often setting the static camera away from the action to create surreally symmetric shots like Jacques Tati. And the story focuses on potential goodness and caring nature, recalling the humanistic heart of Jean Renoir’s work.
But in its appreciation of deadpan humor and downbeat wit, there’s also a touch of Buster Keaton.
In all, Patchwork Family is a charming, redemptory tale, showing how people can overcome personal strife to achieve better selves whenever and however they can.
Dir. Pascal Rabaté, 91 min., France, 2014