Superb two-hander, made for French TV -- but in deadpan, Kaurasmaki style -- is now hitting the fest track and deserves more attention. A compelling road pic that moves from France up to the Arctic circle, it's also a vehicle for talents of Serge Riaboukine and Gerald Laroche, whose perfs build in intensity and humanity with every passing scene.

Superb two-hander, made for French TV — but in deadpan, Kaurasmaki style — is now hitting the fest track and deserves more attention. A compelling road pic that moves from France up to the Arctic circle, it’s also a vehicle for talents of Serge Riaboukine and Gerald Laroche, whose perfs build in intensity and humanity with every passing scene. International arthouse auds should warm to “Capone,” named, by the way, for the racehorse that drives the story.

Said stallion (“son of Corleone,” we’re informed early on) is only one element of many dubious business deals connected to Reno (Riaboukine, who has a rumpled, Depardieu-like presence). Something about the horse grabs him enough to abscond with it — leaving angry partners at the track — with an eye toward a race in Finland.He talks cabbie Alex (Laroche) into hitching up a trailer and driving thousands of miles to Lappland, all for the promise of a big payday — one that Reno has little intention of paying.

Along the way, there’s considerable sparring: The prim, tightly mustached Alex hates sloppily attired Reno’s vulgarity around women and money, and doesn’t let him smoke in the car. But their animosity finally wears down when Reno realizes Alex is so testy because he recently lost his little daughter to cancer. (The driver keeps spotting his pretty, but worn-out wife, giving him reproving looks in the rear-view mirror.)

The hustler’s erstwhile partners (Jean Miez, Bruno Guillot) eventually give chase, eventually running into some surprisingly deadly reindeer (in the pic’s most vaguely handled seg). And he also keeps running into a Hungarian Gypsy (Robyn Kataliez) who wants to buy Capone.

More significant, in the long run, might be Reno’s tentative encounter with a lonely motel keeper and her friendly daughter (Oona Kare, Petri Johansson) especially considering his status as a middle-aged loser with zero family and nowhere welcoming to go.

Alex, too, has unexpected fun at a big midnight-sun party (where “anything goes,” as one local puts it), and finds some quiet resolution in the trip. Scripter-helmer Jean-Marc Brandolo, a veteran first a.d., doesn’t overdue the bonding, however, or sentimentality in general.

Lenser Marie Spencer leans on deep blues and reds, and uses disorienting compositions to amusing, if unshowy, advantage. Spare soundtrack is also excellent, offering a chance to hear stark Scandi choral music and Hank Williams covered in Finnish. A transfer to 35mm from digital would be welcome.

Capone

France

Production

A TV5 Monde (Paris) production, in association with Culture National de la Cinematography. (International sales: ARTE France, Paris.) Produced by Bruno Petit. Directed by Jean-Marc Brandolo. Screenplay, Brandolo, Olivier Loustace.

Crew

Camera (color, DigiBeta), Marie Spencer; editor, Rafaelle Urtin; music, Lionel Chatton, Alex Ojasti; production designer, Eric Durringer; costume designer, Thierry Dellettre; sound (Dolby), Madone Cherpail; assistant director, Stephane Perazzi. Reviewed on videocassette at Seattle Film Festival, June 12, 2004. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Serge Riaboukine, Gerald Laroche, Florence Thomassin, Kari Vaananen, Jean Miez, Bruno Guillot, Robyn Kataliez, Oona Kare, Petri Johansson. (French, Finnish and English dialogue)
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