The joy of film festivals like the L.A. film fest are their personal ventures you won't see in the multiplex. Here, filmmakers weave home video footage into their fiction as if it was all part of the plan. It's fitting that a film about brotherly love is made by two siblings. Writer, director and star Wade Allain-Marcus shares directing duties with his younger brother Jesse Allain-Marcus, with a 10 year gap between them as Jesse is only 19 years of age. The result is unbridled creativity, and although French Dirty clocks in at only just over an hour, it's a dense intimate piece that hooked me in from its opening moments.
It's a film with a nonlinear structure, darting back and forth between past and present in whatever order the previous scene conjures. Vincent (played by Wade) is best friends with Steve. At the start of the story, Vincent meets and instantly connects with Roma (played by his real-life partner Melina Lizette). However, he's dating Jess, so he sets her up with Steve and they fall in love. Meanwhile, Vincent remains in love with Roma. He ultimately breaks up with Jess, then sleeps with Roma while Steve is out of town. On a side sub-plot he reflects on these events and visits his family as he befriends a French tourist.
What jumps at you immediately about French Dirty is the vibrant photography paired with its electrifying editing. Taking inspiration from Mikhail Kalatozov's incredible I Am Cuba, it does that film justice with whirling tracking shots and dizzying dutch angles. Co-director Jesse is reportedly the brother who focuses on the visual side while Wade focuses on the performances, and while it could have ended up too self-aware or indulgent it battles those preconceptions by filling the frame with compelling drama and comedy. It's polished, yet simultaneously raw, efficiently battling the inadequacy of their lenses, blending a version of fantasy and reality that matches up with the eye of an unreliable and heightened perspective.
However, its jumbled nature is a blessing and a curse. It finds itself very difficult to pin down, making a very simple and not very original story more convoluted than it needs to be, almost as if it's scared to paint Vincent in poor light. That puzzle is part of the fun at times. It mostly captures an endearing affection that can only be created by real chemistry with the actors. It's reminiscent of the dynamics of Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien, though it doesn't delve quite so deep into its individuals, leaving Steve and Roma merely intriguing figures. Besides their personalities, it does give us little reason for why Vincent is so in love with both of them, but it's not a difficult thing to buy from Wade's passion behind the camera. The french tourist scenes can be a little on the nose, but its resolution justifies itself.
It's a film that's very concerned with peeling back the genuine side of the characters and contrasting it with the superficial masks that they put on. There's a sadness buried deep in the impending doom of their relationship as Vincent knows his bond with Steve can't last with Roma in their lives. But it doesn't waste time feeling dour while it pokes at the insincerity of your fun self. There's nobility in its cause as it embraces the importance of personal responsibility. Vincent can no longer blame others, most importantly his divorced parents, for his mistakes. The decisions we have to make start to mean something when we take them into adulthood. Despite minor flaws and its brevity, French Dirty is arresting visionary work that has a constant supply of surprises up its sleeve and plenty of substance to match its style.
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