FILM REVIEW / REVIEW – Jérémie Elkaïm directs Marina Foïs in his first film, “They are alive”, a delicate ode to humanity and a beautiful profession of faith in the revolutionary power of the feeling of love. A film that does not succeed in everything but which draws a very beautiful promise.
The first realization of Jérémie Elkaïm
We knew the actor, we will now have to rely on Jérémie Elkaïm as director. For his first film behind the camera, they are Alive he staged an adaptation of the book by Béatrice Huret and Catherine Siguret Calais my love. The true story of Béatrice, Calaisienne, and the widow of a sympathetic FN policeman. One evening, as she returns from the medical center where she is a nursing assistant, she drives a migrant home to the “jungle” of Calais.
There, she will meet an Iranian migrant whose she falls in love with. An upheaval in his life, which will thus call everything into question. This love story, endowed with great political force, was first discovered by Marina Foïs and brought the adaptation project to the first-time director.
they are Alive a story of rebirth
Like exchange of courtesies, Jérémie Elkaïm, like John Cassavetes, sticks his camera to Marina Foïs (Béatrice) and lets his interpreter set the pace of the film. Almost walled in silence following the death of her husband, a policeman, she lives modestly with her mother and her teenage son, in an environment where migrants do not really have a good press.
But from the start of the film, with a captivating sequence of entering the “jungle”, we guess that the distance from Beatrice will not last long. She wants to make herself useful to migrants, which surprises those around her, who even see it as a form of betrayal. But does she want to make herself useful out of pure empathy or does she do it, too, to save herself, overcome her grief and change her dreary daily life?
they are alive delicately seeks its accuracy, as Béatrice seeks hers. There is the social and political material that makes up his career, a precariousness that threatens, an extremist political environment, but there is also the purity of his meeting with Mokhtar (Seear Kohi), an Iranian teacher who is trying to reach England. They love each other, but he can’t stay, and she can’t go with him. From there, the birth of this impossible love will give rise to a rebirth of Béatricewho will find the emotion of the feeling of love, and therefore a new meaning to his life.
Marina Foïs is overwhelming, first in his game of restraint, then in the liberated expression of his love. Then come the smiles, the sympathy returns, and the hope of a happy ending for Mokhtar becomes Beatrice’s obsession. Alone against all, she will be reborn thanks to this love, and Jérémie Elkaïm succeeds in very pretty intimate scenes confusing the pretty awkwardness of the lovers and also, a little, his own.
A politics of intimacy in an incomplete film
In the first film, they are alive at the common fault of excess of love. The love of its subject first, that of a love story that reveals that politics is intimate, and also the fascination for its main actress. Thus, as sometimes happens, the tempo of the film becomes that of its interpreter, because the staging does not find the correct treatment distance.
There is obviously a militant discourse in they are alive, that of solidarity, of humanity, of otherness, but we perceive it above all via the evolution of Béatrice, much less in the environment, the wider landscape and in the background that Jérémie Elkaïm does not manage entirely framed. A pitfall is difficult to avoid when the camera is most often carried on the shoulder and closer to the movements of the main actress.
But it’s not a failure, because by focusing on Béatrice and Mokhtar, the film gracefully shows that concrete politics finds its truth in intimate relationships, and not in the disembodied images shown by the news channels and used by politicians to make their xenophobic speeches. It’s in the eyes, in the gestures, in the words, finally in the sensitive discovery of the other that humanity reveals itself, and nowhere else. However, the strength of cinema is also to be able to image a particular relationship towards a universal principle, and that is what they are alive fails to fully render.
Thus, Beatrice’s other relationships, with her son, her mother, her friends from whom she moves away as she is reborn, may seem anecdotal. While there was undoubtedly material there to make a larger painting…