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  •  REVIEW: LIFE KILLS ME

    Life Kills Me

    Brothers of invention

    Two Arab brothers struggle to find themselves in French society in "Life Kills Me," a strong exploration of society and the self.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    "Life Kills Me" is about something just a shade different from other dramas about France's Arab minorities — it's about the next generation, French-born and yet aware of their ethnicity, seeking to fit into the society they grew up in and yet somewhat stuck on the outside looking in.

      
    LIFE KILLS ME
    Original title: Vivre Me Tue.
    Directed by: Jean-Piere Sinapi.
    Written by: Jean-Pierre Sinapi, Daniel Tonachella.
    Adapted from the novel by: Paul Smail.
    Cast: Sami Bouajila, Jalil Lespert, Sylvie Testud, Simon Bakinde, Roger Ibanez, Teco Celio, Marc Andrˇoni, Djemel Barek, Philippe Duclos, Xavier De Guillebon, Lucien Longueville, Fran¨ois Sinapi, Tassadit Mandi, Mohamed Benguettaf.
    In French with English subtitles.
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  • Twenty-something brothers Paul and Daniel Sma•l (even their mixed French/Arabic names announce their ambiguity, and Paul wonders whether to go over to the other side by dropping the umlaut) each try to get over in a different way. Paul, the swarthier and obviously smarter and more mature of the two, bluffs his way through job interviews, inflating his short-term pizza-delivery job into a management-level revolutionizing of the whole American Pizza chain. Interviewers are consistently impressed, but something keeps him from getting an offer.

    Daniel wants to make it a different way — through body building. The obsession messes with his brain and the steroids mess with his body, but it's the one peg he has to hang his hat on, the only thing staving off his obviously massive insecurity.

    "Have you ever been a scout?" his brother asks him, reading the questions off an employment application.

    Life Kills Me  
    "A scout?" says Daniel, puzzled.

    "Have you ever been a member of a military group," Paul explains.

    "I was a member of Body Gym International!" Daniel offers dimly.

    In the local cafe, Paul meets a lovely young grad student, and offers to drive her to her home in the seedy peep-show district — apparently less out of chivalry than in a scheme to swipe something from her apartment. Myriam (played by Sylvie Testud, who was absolutely lovable as the clarinet-playing daughter of deaf parents in the German film "Beyond Silence") believes his implausible stories of having studied literature himself — and written a thesis on his favorite novel, "Moby Dick."

    Paul's tales are transparently as phony as the ones he invents for job interviews — except on the frequent occasions when they turn out to be absolutely, unexpectedly true. We see it when he offers her a new interpretation for her thesis that she never would have thought of herself, connecting medieval European literature with Middle Eastern roots, and we see it several more times after that. Despite his air of slickness, he turns out to be an intriguing character without the opportunities that life has given Myriam but with an inner authenticity. In another world, he'd be an admired professor or political leader or business manager, but here he's just a smooth-talking Arab who can't get taken seriously.

    The undercurrent of the film is something that's relevant to everybody — the struggle to find one's own identity in society. One brother tortures himself to live up to an unreal, media-fed ideal whose pursuit can only reward him with an evanescent wisp of glory at best. The other tries to hold on to his true self and try to sell that to the wider society even if nobody is buying. It's a small story with big implications — leaving us with a sense of its characters' future that's ambiguous but strong and hopeful, touching on the essence of how we retain our humanity in the society that we're born into but may not fit into.

    MARCH 10, 2003
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Life Kills Me:

  • Vivre me tue   from Thea, May 1, 2005

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