Kennedy and I

Feature helming debut of thesp Sam Karmann, whose sly short "Omnibus" won an Oscar in 1993, "Kennedy and I" revolves around a 48-year-old novelist who can't muster a shred of interest for his profession, his wife or his two children. Is this a transient mid-life crisis or sheer congenital lack of backbone?

With:
Simon Polaris - Jean-Pierre Bacri Anna Polaris - Nicole Garcia Paul Gurney - Patrick Chesnais Robert Janssen - Sam Karmann Victor Kuriakhine - Francois Chattot

Feature helming debut of thesp Sam Karmann, whose sly short “Omnibus” won an Oscar in 1993, “Kennedy and I” revolves around a 48-year-old novelist who can’t muster a shred of interest for his profession, his wife or his two children. Is this a transient mid-life crisis or sheer congenital lack of backbone? Anchored by an exquisitely ornery perf from Jean-Pierre Bacri, this leisurely portrait of family dynamics in a family suddenly short on dynamism is fine fest fare that builds to a wry, satisfying conclusion.

Stay-at-home author Simon (Bacri) divides his time among spinning the chamber of his revolver, catching flies with his bare hands and visiting an elderly man in a nursing home. When, that is, he’s not having a hole carved in his jaw to remove a festering cyst or assaulting an eminent oral surgeon when his gums don’t heal fast enough.

All of this doesn’t sound like a laugh riot, but there turns out to be something like method to Simon’s madness when he becomes obsessed with his shrink’s wristwatch. Said timepiece was allegedly on John F. Kennedy’s wrist when he was assassinated in Dallas. Simon’s laconic voiceovers inform us of his defiantly morose take on everything from the son and daughter he feels he should never have fathered to the ostensibly secret affair his speech-therapist wife (Nicole Garcia) is having with an ear, nose and throat specialist (helmer Karmann) at the clinic where both work.

Main character carves out his own brand of catharsis from such unlikely material as his daughter’s engagement party — which includes a surreal remembrance ceremony for her fiance’s father, who drowned two years earlier — and a gnawing covetousness for the watch his shrink never lets out of the clenched left hand buried in his trouser pocket.

Bacri is completely convincing as the increasingly antisocial Simon, and Garcia hits all the right notes as the wife who’s at loose ends as to how best to respond to her distant spouse. Film’s delicacy is in demonstrating that theirs remains a good marriage, despite countless signs to the contrary.

Lensing in a picturesque yet slightly dreary port town in the Basque country suits the mental landscape. Brief running time feels just right.

Kennedy and I

France

Production: A Pathe release (in France) of an Elizabeth Films/Les Films A4 presentation of a France 2 Cinema/Roissy Films/Prima/Telema production, with participation of Canal Plus, Gimages 2 and Cofimage 10. (International sales: Roissy Film, Paris.) Produced by Edouard Weil, Christian Berard. Executive producer, Jean-Claude Bourlat. Directed by Sam Karmann. Screenplay, Karmann, Jean-Paul Dubois, based on the novel by Dubois.

Crew: Camera (color), Guillaume Schiffman; editor, Philippe Bourgueil; music, Pierre Adenot; art director, Aline Bonetto; costume designer, Madeline Fontaine; sound (Dolby), Dominique Warnier, Philippe Baudhuin; assistant director, Jean-Christophe Delpias; casting, Joanne Biras. Reviewed at MK2 Odeon, Paris, Jan. 5, 2000. Running time: 84 MIN.

With: Simon Polaris - Jean-Pierre Bacri Anna Polaris - Nicole Garcia Paul Gurney - Patrick Chesnais Robert Janssen - Sam Karmann Victor Kuriakhine - Francois ChattotWith: Eleonore Gosset, Lucas Bonnifait, Stephane Hohn, Bruno Raffaelli, Francine Berge, Jean-Claude Brialy.

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