Review: ‘Let There Be Light’

(French and English dialogue)

(French and English dialogue)

An ambitious, slightly overlong fantasy that makes delightful use of the city of Paris and the magic of movies, “Let There Be Light” posits that God himself would have a hell of a time getting a script made into a film the way he wrote it. Although the whimsy sometimes flags in this romp about the supreme deity as frustrated artist, radiant Helene de Fougerolles as the modern-day Joan of Arc whom God picks to direct His opus is sufficiently adorable to convince most viewers they’ve had a glimpse of heaven. Heartfelt effort could do nicely on the fest circuit and maybe earn the offshore release it deserves.

Locally, pic was dumped without fanfare in mid-July, when it could hardly be expected to draw crowds. A technically impressive, stylish valentine to Jewish humor and the movies, it is part of the slate that was left in the lurch at the now-defunct Ciby 2000.

Hurtling through space on an asteroid equipped with a comfy armchair and a blazing hearth, an invisible God (voiced by Pierre Arditi) attended by an obsequious angel named Rene (Ticky Holgado) watches events on Earth via a TV set. Tapping away on a manual typewriter with a Hebrew keyboard, God cranks out a thick screenplay, then heads to “the only place” he’ll find a director, landing in the form of a burning bush behind the Hollywood sign. But his hostile reception in Hollywood convinces Him he’ll be better off in the City of Lights than the City of Angels, prompting an amusing ruse with a Paris-bound airplane.

Much as in the Denzel Washington starrer “Fallen,” where evil bounces from human to human, here God transits from body to body as a nervous tic around the eyes. After trading bodies a few more times — including incarnations as thesp Arielle Dombasle and a pigeon — God decides Jeanne (de Fougerolles), a lower-echelon techie at the soulless communications conglom Harper Audiovisual, is the ideal helmer. Jeanne starts hearing voices, and her Orthodox Jewish neighbor begins receiving lengthy faxes for her in Hebrew.

Once the script’s been rendered in French, under the title “Let There Be Light,” Jeanne drops it off at headquarters where a funny sequence shows the manuscript being used as a booster seat, an emergency sponge and a cockroach-crushing projectile before coming to the attention of Mr. Harper (Tcheky Karyo), who has a fab office above the clouds on the 127th floor and is obviously the devil incarnate.

Harper greenlights a modified version of God’s script — prompting the Almighty Auteur to complain, “I wrote the Bible — the bestselling book of all time! Where do they get off editing my script?!” — but the battle to hew to God’s artistic vision is just beginning.

Helmer/co-scripter Arthur Joffe followed his misguided debut, “Harem” (1985), with the sweetly frenetic “Alberto Express” (1990), which current pic resembles in its fanciful elan and its mission to comment on real life by creating a world of its own.

Effects work is aces, and always in the service of the story, which is a sweet tribute to fathers both holy and mortal. Satirical but never cynical, pic salutes anyone with imagination and determination who struggles against the odds.

Joffe keeps a huge array of thesps and settings under control with a light touch, but it is de Fougerolles who effortlessly anchors the proceedings. Use of music is as deft as the outstanding production design. Entire movie has a lavish sheen not often seen in Gallic productions.

Let There Be Light

(COMIC FANTASY -- FRENCH)

Production

An AFMD release (in France) of a Ciby 2000/France 2 Cinema production. (International sales: Ciby Sales, Paris.) Produced by Claudie Ossard. Directed by Arthur Joffe. Screenplay, Joffe, Laurent Jaoui, Jean-Louis Benoit.

Crew

Camera (color), Philippe Welt; editor, Marie Castro; music, Angelique and Jean-Claude Nachon; art director, Nikos Melletopoulos; costume designer, Madeline Fontaine; sound (Dolby), Vincent Arnardi, Thierry Lebon; special effects, Pascal Charpentier; casting, Pierre Amzallag. Reviewed at UCG Danton, Paris, July 21, 1998. Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Jeanne ..... Helene de Fougerolles Harper ..... Tcheky Karyo Rene ..... Ticky Holgado Voice of God ..... Pierre Arditi
With: Gordon Tootoosis, Francois Morel, Sergio Castellito, Michael Lonsdale, Patrick Bouchitey, Catherine Jacob, Arielle Dombasle, Elie Semoun, Julien Guiomar, Yolande Moreau, Michel Galabru, Eric Blanc, Zinedine Soualem, Bruce Myers, Lorella Cravotta, Laurent Spielvogel, Jacques Weber, Dominique Farrugia, Rufus, Frederic Mitterrand, Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, Jose Garcia, Maite, Patrick Braoude.
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