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    French twists

    Teeming with plot complications and surprising characters, the French film "Chaos" splays kaleidoscopically before coming together delightfully in the end.


    Coline Serreau sure does like to lay it on thick. And I mean that in the best way possible. In "Romuald et Juliette," her excellent 1989 movie about class and race, she not only had a rich man falling in love with a poor woman, but she made the woman black and the man white. And the woman was overweight and the man was not. And the woman had multiple children by multiple men, a twist that turned what might have been a lite, feel-good fairy tale into a piece of thinking-person's escapism. Take that, Garry Marshall.

    Written and directed by: Coline Serreau.
    Cast: Catherine Frot, Vincent Lindon, Rachida Brakni, Line Renaud, Aurelien Wiik, and Ivan Franek.
    In French with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    The highly entertaining "Chaos," her most recent film, is even more chock-full of complications. The movie, which is set mostly in Paris, has more plots than a cemetery. There's a bourgeois couple, Helene and Paul, who witness a prostitute being beaten by a group of men and who do nothing to help. The guilt-plagued Helene (the endearing Catherine Frot) tracks down the hospital where the prostitute is staying and helps nurse her back to health. There's the prostitute herself, Malika, a young woman who came to her line of work after running away from home as a teenager because her father sold her into a marriage with a businessman in Algeria. There's the comeuppance — a complex heist that is thrilling to watch — that Malika delivers to her pimps. There's Helene and Paul's pretty young son, Fabrice, who tries and fails to juggle more than one romance when he overestimates his appeal to the opposite sex.

    Paul is a story in himself. As played by Vincent Lindon, whose physicality — thick, stubby body, large head — screams boor, he's a self-absorbed lout who brags to Fabrice that the women at work are all ready to "lick him up and down" because he's so irresistible and who regards his wife as his live-in maid. Paul's mother, meanwhile, is a tender elderly woman who travels to Paris from her country home and makes do with the few moments her busy son spares her. There's a very painful scene in which the two of them sit in a cafeteria in silence, Paul clearly eager for the visit to be over, his mother desperate to connect with her son but unsure of how to do so.

    Hey, Serreau didn't call it "Chaos" for nothing.

    But don't be put off by the movie's kaleidoscopic approach to storytelling. As impossible as it sounds, it all fits together in the end. That's partly because Serreau is not afraid to be outrageous, pushing the limits of what is believable. At one point, Malika (Rachida Brakni, who projects a steely sense of survival even as her large, expressive eyes reflect deep sorrow) decides to learn how the stock market works. There's a montage that traces her progress from absolute beginner, so tentatively trading stocks online, to seasoned investor, avidly reading the business pages between johns and joyfully reaping big profits off clever trades. It's almost hilarious, it's so absurd. But that same absurdity is what keeps you rapt. You can't possibly guess where Serreau is going next, but you know it will be delightful.

    The film has much to offer emotionally, as well. The heist that is Malika's revenge is symbolically the stealing back of her dignity — and that of Helene, of Paul's mother, of Malika's young sister, who is soon to be sold into marriage, and, it must be said, of women in general. By the end, these embattled female characters find a peacefulness and liberation that they might never have known had their paths not crossed. Some viewers will feel that Serreau goes too far in portraying men as uncaring, selfish, and even violent toward women. But there's indisputable truth at the core of her exaggerations, and anyway she exaggerates for the sake of comedy (the film has many funny bits) and drama. You know, for the sake of moviemaking.

    "Chaos" — which was nominated for five Cesars (including best film) and won one (for Brakni, for most promising actress) — is at the very least an immensely satisfying movie experience. But how lovely indeed that the order Serreau creates from it is so empowering.

    JANUARY 30, 2003

    Reader comments on Chaos:

  • The Beauty of Chaos   from ms, Feb 2, 2003
  • Re: The Beauty of Chaos   from rreed, Aug 20, 2003
  • Re: The Beauty of Chaos   from Amanda, Apr 19, 2004
  • chaos in sydney   from daniel taylor, Apr 11, 2003
  • Chaos commentary   from Shira, Apr 18, 2003
  • Thank You Thank You Thank You   from Theresa, May 9, 2003
  • [no subject]   from anna georgieva, Jul 10, 2004
  • grrreat film   from Alicia, Dec 1, 2004
  • CHAOS   from jimv reiss, Dec 12, 2004
  • the message from chaos   from Sheena, Feb 20, 2005
  • FABULOUS movie!!   from Sunn Yeo, Sep 15, 2010

  • Post a comment on "Chaos"