La Presse at the 74th Berlinale | The beautiful discomforts

(Berlin) “It’s extraordinary! », Philippe Lesage told me during the end credits. I had just pointed out to him that the audience at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt had laughed spontaneously, always at the right moments, during the world premiere of his new film, Like fire, Sunday evening at the Berlinale. Which is not given in advance when the public has to read subtitles.

I could have confided this to him: I didn’t think I would laugh so much when discovering a work by the filmmaker of Demons and of Genesis. I felt Lesage feverish, a few seats away from me in this large, packed room near the Brandenburg Gate. He squirmed in his seat. “My heart is beating at 200 miles an hour,” he told the audience after the screening. He must have been reassured by the loud applause he had just heard.

Like fire, which competes in the Generation 14+ section of the Berlinale, features old friends, a screenwriter, Albert, and a director, Blake, who meet again for the first time after three years in the large chalet worthy of an outfitter which the second possesses. Their films were very successful, until Blake – who has an Oscar in his library – decided to turn to nature and documentary. Albert created an animated television series called Rock Lobster, like the B-52’s song. Because you have to pay your mortgage.

The two like to blow each other’s throats, but it is not without consequences when a friendship is not in good shape. This is the occasion for a formidable duel of actors – and characters – between Paul Ahmarani (Albert) and Arieh Worthalter (Blake), French actor who recently played the main role in The Goldman affair. The two actors improvised some of their dialogues, with a striking naturalness, during the scenes shot in sequence in the dining room where they tell each other their truths.

Blake and Albert, “a bitter alcoholic” according to Blake, himself the archetypal narcissistic pervert, create discomfort as they breathe. We want, like the characters taken hostage around the table, to melt into our seats.

Ahmarani perfectly plays the neurotic screenwriter who is angry with the all-powerful director for putting an end to their fruitful collaboration. Worthalter has assimilated with disarming naturalness Quebecois expressions which make his character of a French filmmaker with an oversized ego who has adopted “my cabin in Canada” perfectly credible.

“The script of the film was correct, but the film is better than the script thanks to the actors,” admitted Philippe Lesage after the screening of his film, surrounded by this formidable cast which also includes Sophie Desmarais, Guillaume Laurin, Laurent Lucas and Irène Jacob, which is also from the new film by Israeli Amos Gitaï, Shikunpresented yesterday at the Berlinale.


Director Philippe Lesage

In Like fireKieslowski’s muse plays an actress who had her heyday in the 1990s and who declares, upon seeing the extent of the tensions between Blake and Albert, that they suffer from “cabin fever”.

This plot is coupled with a coming-of-age story featuring Jeff (Noah Parker, very convincing), shy, clumsy and secretly in love with Alyocha (Aurélia Arandi-Longpré), Albert’s daughter and Max’s sister ( Antoine Marchand-Gagnon), who invited Jeff to this weekend.

“I was interested in the disillusionment of young people who meet their mentors and discover that they have flaws, defects. That was the premise of the film,” says Philippe Lesage. This is what happens to Jeff, an aspiring director and admirer of Blake. And this is what happened to Philippe Lesage’s brother, the director Jean-François Lesage (Prayer for a lost mitten), during teenagehood. “Never meet your heroes”, goes the Chinese proverb.

“I intended to take a look at adults, absent from my previous films, but from the point of view of young people,” adds Philippe Lesage. It seems to me that adults are a species created to disappoint. Adults often hide their ego and their weaknesses. »

There is perhaps a bit of Jean-Claude Lauzon in Blake. He’s brilliant, impulsive and reckless, but it’s not modesty that stifles him. The character of Alyosha, an aspiring novelist, highlights the toxic masculinity that surrounds him. “I try to use another expression, because it seems overused to me, but patriarchy and what is expected of boys are at the heart of the film as in my previous film,” replied the filmmaker to a spectator who told him asked the question.

As in his other feature films, Lesage establishes, despite the humorous traits of his characters, an atmosphere of general concern. We are not surprised that he was inspired by Delivery by John Boorman and Deer Hunter by Michael Cimino, for the photo direction as well as for the danger lurking at the edge of the trails, the forest and the river. The images shot in Haute-Mauricie are also splendid.

In a more tragicomic register than Philippe Lesage’s previous feature-length fiction films – with an important place given to music, notably by Marjo and Zachary Richard –, Like fire is perhaps his most accessible film. Even if it stretches unduly at 2 hours 40 minutes and in the last act, the scenario seems to hesitate on the direction to take, like the characters in a canoe in the rapids.

It is a work which above all emphasizes the acuity of this highly talented author-filmmaker’s view of the human condition, made up of small hypocrisies, jealousies, disappointments, fleeting happiness and lasting vexations.

Accommodation costs were paid by the Berlinale and Telefilm Canada.

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