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Review by Chris Heller
Rating: (2 out of 5)
Monday, 10/17/2011, 9:00 PM
Feature presentation, $12 at West End Cinema
French with English subtitles
A FEW DAYS of Respite asks a lot from its audience. The bones-bare script strains to fill silence with emotional impact. The plot shrugs along, second-by-second, with just enough narrative momentum to keep going. Director Amor Hakkar’s camera does nothing but linger. And all the while, characters keep staring at each other, nondescript and silent. It shoots for grandeur, but lands in pretension.
Set in Europe, this French-language drama follows Mohsen (Hakkar) and Hassan (Samir Guesmi), a gay Iranian couple who flee to Paris in order to live away from the threat of death sentences. After making their way into France, Mohsen finds work as a handyman in a small town, but his employer, an older woman named Yolande (Marina Vlady), tries to seduce him. Her blatant scheming, largely unbeknownst to either man, leads to an inevitable conflict — will Mohsen choose a stable job and companion, or run away to Paris with Hassan?
While the premise is catching enough, Hakkar just doesn’t do anything to further A Few Days of Respite past that initial interest. He deploys minimalism to a fault, not explaining the depth of Mohsen and Hassan’s relationship, or, more frustratingly, how it all figures in the end. Sure, there are a few bright spots buried underneath — Hakkar presents worthy questions about love, happiness and sacrifice — but Respite settles as dour and melodramatic when it could have been unyielding and sentimental.
A story like this one deserves more than a feather’s touch; it should be adamant and honest and troubling. But it’s not — the fault lies in what was left out, untold.