Film Review: Un Petit Frère (Mother and Son)

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Film Review: Un Petit Frère (Mother and Son)
Un Petit Frère, directed by Léonor Serraille, played surprisingly briefly at mainline Parisian cinemas, and got tepid notices from some reviewers. (It was an official entry at Cannes, however, winning a prize for production design.) It also received flak for “cultural appropriation”: a white Frenchwoman daring to make a film about an African woman who’s immigrated to France. She responded by saying that she was interested in the individuals she was depicting, not their ethnicity. Indeed, the film is essentially a character study that insists on the unique qualities of its protagonists, features that may overlap with or evoke their origins but can’t be reduced to them. Un Petit Frère is a mostly superb movie, though not perfect, and raises some trenchant questions. Director Léonor Serraille © Ph. Lebruman Despite the title (literally A Little Brother), the film is about three persons, Rose (Annabelle Lengronne), an immigrant from the Ivory Coast, and her two sons. The film is divided into chapters, each bearing the name of a family member. If that sounds schematic, it is, but only to a degree. The sections refer not only to what is there (the character who’s the main focus) but also to someone or something that’s absent. In the first section Rose arrives in France with her young boys, and finds lodging with contacts in a Parisian suburb. In retrospective voice-over the younger son, now grown, says his mother arrived with a “bag of unhappiness.” But what exactly? There are hints that it’s more than material deprivation, but the director never gives us the reveal a more conventional film would proffer like a treat to the viewer. We’re left to consider various possibilities. Un Petit Frère © Blue Monday Productions – France 3 Cinéma Rose gets a job as a housecleaner, and must deal with sometimes imperious treatment from her hosts. Rose is a life force, doing her tough work, navigating her new country. She’s at her best (at least from our point of view) as a nurturing mother. She also makes the rounds of several men. She refuses the attentions of a decent African man, who seems merely nice. A Tunisian boyfriend is nice, and more than nice, but only for a temporary period. Others leave something to be desired — like everything. In Paris an attractive, vivacious woman, even from a poor background, has access to various unsavory scenes, and Rose is game. The director has obvious respect and affection for the character, but she doesn’t sentimentalize her. Rose is imperfect in spades, with many different sides. What’s realistic, but frustrating for the viewer, is that these sides don’t come together — with some mysterious hole in her, she’s a fragmented person. Un Petit Frère © Blue Monday Productions – France 3 Cinéma
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Lead photo credit : Un Petit Frère © Blue Monday Productions - France 3 Cinéma

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Dimitri Keramitas was born and raised in Connecticut, USA, and was educated at the University of Hartford, Sorbonne, and the University of London, and holds degrees in literature and law. He has lived in Paris for years, and directs a training company and translation agency. In addition, he has worked as a film critic for both print and on-line publications, including Bonjour Paris and France Today. He is a contributing editor to Movies in American History. In addition he is an award-winning writer of fiction, whose stories have been published in many literary journals. He is the director of the creative writing program at WICE, a Paris-based organization. He is also a director at the Paris Alumni Network, an organization linking together several hundred professionals, and is the editor of its newletter. The father of two children, Dimitri not only enjoys Paris living but returning to the US regularly and traveling in Europe and elsewhere.