By Owen Peters
Directed by Camille Fontaine
European Film Market review
Having watched Camille Fontaine’s debut film By Accident, I would dearly have liked an accompanying note which would have run, “OK that’s the draft version, let’s get some comments and tighten up the screenplay.” Alas, no such luck, this is it. The film has a raft of good ideas, themes worth contemplation, moral dilemmas, trust, honesty, strength of relationships. It’s all set up. Sadly Fontaine’s narrative and storyline can’t bring the various components together to make this the film it could have been.
By Accident begins with its main theme. While driving home from her job as a dry cleaning machine operator, Amra (Hafsia Herzi) hits a pedestrian whilst messing about with her mobile phone. She is arrested and the pedestrian is badly injured, falling into a coma. The lives of her husband Lyès (Mounir Margoum) and five year old daughter Blanche (Thelma Deroche Marc) are turned upside down.
The family live in a rundown trailer/caravan in the hills of Aix-en-Provence. We are soon made aware that this day-to-day, low profile existence is mainly due to immigration concerns. Both are Algerian. Lyès is an illegal worker in France whilst Amra hopes to gain her green card status. They don’t request or crave social interaction from the outside world. From left of centre enters Angélique (Émilie Dequenne) who says she saw the accident, providing the police with a written statement. So Amra is safe and all her worries are over thanks to a witness who says it was the pedestrian’s fault. But not everything is as it seems. Angelique may not have been at the scene at all, making a possibly falsified statement in order to try her hand at blackmail.
Is Angelique a prostitute? A chancer? Someone who needs a break? Or simply an untrustworthy liar who likes to wear her hemlines high and tops low? Besides being told she is a part time nurse, has no family and who serves a purpose that can be summarised as ‘Men just want to bone me’ whilst ‘Women hate me’. There is no character development to Angelique. It’s hard to sympathise with her actions or to understand her reasoning and rationale at times, resulting in a lack of sympathy for her plight. She infiltrates the family and their home with surprising ease, driving Amra to work and picking up Blanche from school. At one point Angelique stays overnight, sleeping in the same bed as Blanche unbeknown to her mother until discovered in the morning.
When Angelique takes Amra out to dance, drink and shake off her heavy oppressive moods is when the film springs into life. They stride into Thelma and Louise territory, two hot girls looking for a little mayhem. There are some humorous moments as Amra tries to shakes off her coil of respectability, drinking copious amounts of white wine with some decidedly dodgy dance moves. All good fun. Unfortunately Angelique becomes an overstated caricature. Moving from ‘good time girl’ to mouthy, trashy gal who can pee in a cubicle whilst others watch. Classy.
The photography by Elin Kirschfink provide a welcome backdrop. She captures the power plants industrial settings, billowing smoke mixed alongside cold grey pipes, conveyed with an eye for detail and contrasting colours. Switching to the greenery, landscape and winding roads, she captures the surroundings of Aix-en-Provence, right down to some wonderful frames of raindrops striking puddles.
The loving relationship between Amra and Lyès is totally believable. Lyès is supportive, understanding and caring. He touches Amra with hugs, a touch of her cheek, caress of a hand, straightening her hair all without a hint of sexuality. He portrays the role of devout, stable family man with aplomb. After some basic detective work, Amra decides Angelique is not to be trusted, provoking concern for the welfare of her daughter. With much running and panting she arrives from town back home to find Angelique in her house sharing a drink and laughter with Lyès. Instead of sweeping up her child in the euphoria of finding her unharmed, Amra walks right by her, not even making eye contact. This scene is representative of the holes that could have been plugged with more care from Fontaine.
By Accident threatens to take many interesting forks and turns along the way, but doesn’t. However I’d suggest the film is worth a view for the cinematography skills of Kirschfink plus the strong performances of Herzi, Dequenne and Margoum who stay true to their characters throughout the film. Here’s hoping that Fontaine will only build on the screenwriting of her directorial debut.
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