Saturday, 11 February 2012

THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Low Key Drama explores bourgeois dreams and values tarnished in a world of downsizing when the haves become have-nots and the have-nots-who-never-had want what the new have-nots appear to have, but do not, indeed, have.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011) dir. Robert Guédiguian
Starring: Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan, Marilyne Canto, Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet


By Greg Klymkiw

Inspired by Victor Hugo's poem "How Good Are The Poor" ("Les pauvres gens"), The Snows of Kilimanjaro is a low-key drama with an annoying lefty thematic sledge-hammer that finally gets in the way of enjoying this promising tale of haves, have-nots and when the lines between both get blurred. On the plus-side, it's about adults. On the downside, the Liberalism of these adult characters leads to the sort of grey areas in the story that some might consider freshly ambiguous, but ultimately leaves a bad taste in one's mouth, knowing how much potential has been squandered because of the didactic nature of the approach.

Things begin promisingly enough with a mysterious lottery taking place on the docks of Marseilles. A wide array of mugs resembling a kind of Gallic assemblage of On the Waterfront types stand in a circle as twenty names are drawn and each person whose name is called walks grimly forward. These twenty men are being laid-off due to a lack of work. The big surprise is that union-rep Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), didn't have to throw his name into the hat, but did so out of his lefty ideals of "being fair". And, what do these ideals, get him? A tin-handshake, the shaft - the old sack-eroo. This is probably not a great thing to happen to a 50-something welder whose wife Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride) works as a cleaning lady to help make ends meet.

Still, he takes it in stride, as does his wife. Their home is paid-off, they have a passel of adult kids and grandchildren and they have their health. To sweeten the pot, the union and their kids throw a huge 25th Wedding anniversary soiree and everyone chips in to send them on an expensive African safari to Tanzania.

Things could be worse.

Still, Michel is incredibly distressed, misses life on the docks, can't get work and spends his days in a sort of addled forced early-retirement. Marie-Claire is his rock in all this and she's both compassionate and understanding - to a fault. This is the first sign that things might be going awry with the narrative - this woman is a lefty wet dream, a saint. Another sign that this movie is going into the territory of didacticism is when Michel laments the fact that he and his wife have, over the years, becomes bourgeois.

Oh Jesus, give me a break. They've worked their asses off, supported a family and own a lovely home - what's to feel guilty about?

One night, they entertain another 50-something couple Raoul and Denise (Gérard Meylan and Marilyne Canto) over a game of bridge and the four of them are subjected to a violent home invasion by armed, masked thugs. Here things get even more problematic. The filmmakers are more concerned with their theme than narrative logic. The home invaders make it clear they know Michel and his wife have a whack of dough and airplane tickets for their trip to Tanzania. In spite of this, they spend a fair bit of screen time in the aftermath of this robbery wondering why they have been singled out for robbery. Surely this might have been a salient-enough detail to report to the police, but no, it takes a ridiculous coincidence lacking any credibility for Michel to pinpoint one of the two home invaders. Uh, these guys already admitted to knowing about the cash and airfare for the trip. All the laid-off dock workers were invited to the anniversary party.


There's no need for a hackneyed deus ex machina-styled moment to reveal who our villain is. Frankly, what might have made sense narratively is for Michel to begin hunting down the culprit by going through the list of his fellow laid-off co-workers. But no, that would have been far too, uh, bourgeois, too American. Why have a character betrayed by a union "brother" turn into a Charles Bronson type when you can have him sitting on the bus in a large port city just as the answer to what haunts him presents itself ever-so conveniently?

Why? Because it will be easier to espouse a fake lefty agenda if one avoids what any betrayed dock worker might do. Better to make him feel guilty for turning in a "brother".

Buddy, your "brother" ripped you off, assaulted you, your wife and your friends and now you're in a financial sea of shit over this whole thing. Well, the filmmaker takes us to these places, not because it makes narrative sense, but because he wants it that way, but doesn't really want to do the work necessary to make anything credible.

When Michel is handed a lead pipe by a cop and told he can visit the thief to "have a talk" with him and that the cop will be happy to trump up a "resisting arrest" alibi if Michel might find it in him to use the pipe, I found myself perking up a tad. But no, the thief hurls an insult at Michel about his bourgeois ideals and all Michel can muster is a slap across the thief's face.

Where I really gave up on the movie being any good at all is when Michel starts to actually feel sorry for his "brother" and wants to drop the charges. (That said, the uninspired use of Joe Cocker’s “Many Rivers to Cross” should have been reason enough to give up on this oh-so square lefty tract.)

There was a very interesting and compelling story idea buried in this film, but director/co-writer Robert Guédiguian clearly had no intention of properly exploiting this charged material and was more interested in propagating some pro-milksop-whiner myth.

To what end?

Oh, I don't know. Let's rifle through Guédiguian's wallet and see if he's got a membership card with the Communist Party.

"The Snows of Kilimanjaro" is in very limited theatrical release and is playing at the independent Royal Cinema in Toronto. It's seems destined for a life in home entertainment venues. In Canada, the film is distributed via Mongrel Media.