The sure-handed visual sense and basic story already in evidence in Eric Guirado’s striking Cesar-winning short “Un petit air de fete” (2000) are expanded in “When You Come Down to Earth.” Affecting, keenly observed contempo tale of a farmer whose fundamental decency is tested in the city, carries a docu-style punch in its portrait of the homeless and the problems they pose in an otherwise tidy urban landscape. Insightful and human rather than depressing, film skillfully maintains an encouragingly bittersweet tone. A must for sidebars of new Gallic talent, pic is a solid plus for fests.
Jerome (Benoit Giros), a struggling youngish farmer with a genuine affinity for the land, takes a motor coach to the nearest city just before Christmas in search of paid work. Hired by City Hall to string lights on municipal Christmas trees, Jerome is quickly moved to a job that’s far less harmless. He is assigned to accompany van driver Lucien (Jean-Francois Gallotte) as back-up for no-nonsense city employees who round up undesirables — from young drifters to the hard core homeless — drive them to an empty field well outside the city limits and unceremoniously leave them stranded there.
Lucien — who enjoys the mayor’s patronage but not quite enough to be allotted a larger subsidized apartment for his wife and four young daughters — hates the work as much as Jerome does. Jerome runs smack into his conscience when La Chignole (Serge Riaboukine, in an outstanding turn), a proud drunkard he met as soon as he arrived, is included in a brutal round-up.
Concentrating on what otherwise powerless individuals can do to treat each other decently while keeping body and soul together, story is enriched by several thoughtful tangents. These include Jerome’s fledgling relationship with his estranged sister, a single mom; and the disillusionment of an idealistic young journalist whose editor refuses to publish her photos of the shameful mini-deportations.
Thesps are utterly, disarmingly convincing. Score shows the same deft intelligence as pic’s painterly, communicative lensing.