Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Forgotten Movies: Fantasia Edition - Harry Cleven's TROUBLE

As I get ready to board the Amtrak bound for Montreal and the Fantasia Film Festival this Saturday morn, a major feeling of excitement always takes over me. While I usually drive up, circumstances (i.e. auto repairs) are forcing me to take the train out of NYC this year, which actually isn't too big a deal, though it's adding an extra 3 hours to the trip. Still, I always look forward to the drive simply because upstate New York is rather beautiful this time of year and I suppose seeing it by train should also be a nice pleasure (I'm guessing). I'm not really one for traveling long hours (the only thing about traveling I'm not find of - bring on teleportation, please), but for a trip to Fantasia it's all going to be worth it because I know I'm going to see a lot of good friends, make some new ones, relax, have some fun and see some great movies and some not so great movies. My Fantasia average is about 15 films in the space of a week (give or take) and there's a spot of burnout around the middle of the week, but I'm often able to maintain that pace and am always more than happy to do so. I wouldn't say that I live for this stuff, but to do all this surrounded by good friends in a wonderful town like Montreal is definitely my idea of a vacation.

I've seen so many films at Fantasia over the years that it's not even funny, a few of them classics in the making (RINGU, SHAUN OF THE DEAD), some of them rock-solid and some of them I've just forgotten about. But there have been a lot of good ones that have fallen through the cracks, pictures that played the festival circuit but never got picked up for North America. One of those pictures that sticks out for me is Harry Cleven's TROUBLE, from Fantasia 2005, not necessarily because it's a great film, but because this is an absolutely rock-solid, intelligent and gripping foreign film that also happens to be completely commercial. It's a twins movie, an opportunity for one actor to play two roles, but Cleven isn't interested in doing things too easy. TROUBLE is DEAD RINGER by way of DEAD RINGERS, something conventional (one twin's good, the other's bad) but done in a manner that is equal parts entertaining and intelligent. Cleven (who co-wrote the script, attended the screening and is a super nice guy) is interested in telling a story about the true nature of a man and how the sudden appearance of a long-lost twin can bring out rather unexpected elements of a person's character, but he wants you to feel you got your money's worth. Family man and photographer Benoit Magimel (superb in both roles) discovers upon the death of his mother that he has a twin brother he never knew of, who turns out to be charming and sweet and charms everyone he knows. But he also suspects that his new found twin is looking to take over his life or is it just paranoia? I'm going to leave the plot description to just that, but let's just say that TROUBLE goes into some very interesting directions while remaining first and foremost a thriller that should enthrall (yes, I used the word "enthrall") any average viewer.

TROUBLE really has a lot going for it. Like I said, Magimel is just outstanding in both roles, playing each brother distinctively, but not so much that others would catch on if one were pretending to be the other. The fear that the lead brother he plays has when he suspects his new brother is taking over his life feels very real, and he doesn't play the other brother as some kind of prototypical movie evil twin. Admittedly, the plotting will not always provide surprises, but what really kills you, what truly puts this movie past good and into something else, is the ending. Certainly, I'm not going to give it away, but it's got one of those endings where you just sit there and say to yourself, "God DAMN!". It's a ballsy thing that Cleven comes up with and when it happens your respect for him and the film shoots up considerably. TROUBLE may not always be the most unique twin movie, but when that ending occurs, you know it's set itself apart.

Big time kudos also have to go to Vincent Mathias' cinematography and the FX that bring the two Magimel's together, which are subtle and don't call attention to themselves, like good FX should. Just thinking about all this, it pains me to think that there isn't any outlet with which you, the reader, can find TROUBLE; although there's a French DVD, there are no English subs on it, so unless you speak French, you're kinda screwed. This is the kind of foreign film that most small distributors used to seek out because it had some commercial possibilities, but I'm wondering if a market exists for such films anymore. It should, and yet TROUBLE is still without U.S. distribution, which is a shame. Maybe some day I'll be able to point you in its DVD direction, but I'm still glad I saw it and I'm grateful to Fantasia for showing it. Let's hope this year's crop yields many that are just as good.

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