Stellar performances and an inkily comic narrative highlight one of the season's best new French films. Antoine (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) is a Paris insurance clerk who's headed off to the country after a tough week at the office. He and his wife (Carole Bouquet), a corporate attorney are to pick up their two children from summer camp and then leave for their country home in the south of France. On the way, a radio bulletin informs, they'll keep company with more than 2 million other drivers due to hit the road. Viewers sensing an approaching nightmare when Antoine sneaks off to down a couple of quick ones will be right on the mark, though it's a nightmare that will be leavened with more than a touch of black humor. Adapting a Georges Simenon novel originally set in the U.S., writer-director Cédric Kahn has crafted a road movie with a nasty streak. Darroussin, whose lived-in face will be familiar even if his name doesn't ring a bell, has been in several films per year for the past decade -- including most of the Marseille-set films of Robert Guédiguian -- without ever breaking through to stardom. Here he's in practically every shot, and in part since he may be the only Frenchman ever photographed who actually sweats, he makes an indelible impression. Bouquet, whose great beauty is as dry and cold as ever, seems at first an improbable companion both for the character and for the actor. But although her part is quite small, she makes her lingering presence felt indelibly.
Born in Fontenay-aux-roses, in 1966, Cédric Kahn had his first job in film as a trainee on Maurice Pialat's Under Satan's Sun. Shortly after, he worked as an assistant editor to Yann Dedet, with whom he later collaborated. He was coauthor on Brigitte Rouan's Overseas. His debut as a feature film director was Bar des Rails. He made a name for himself at an international level with his Alberto Moravia adaptation, L'ennui and his portrait of a serial killer, Roberto Succo. Red Lights, his most recent film, is a critical sensation in France.