Taking prolific novelist Donald Westlake's story of a sailor rediscovering his ex-wife, helmer-scribe Laurence Ferreira Barbosa ("Modern Life") crafts a pleasant character study that seeks to answer the age-old question of how we become our adult selves. Will live for a time in fest land, but Euro cable is its likely rest home.

Taking prolific novelist Donald Westlake’s story of a sailor rediscovering his ex-wife, helmer-scribe Laurence Ferreira Barbosa (“Modern Life”) crafts a pleasant character study that seeks to answer the age-old question of how we become our adult selves. Thanks to Roschdy Zem’s highly sympathetic performance, interest levels remain above the norm, but the aimless detours after the first hour weaken the sense of direction, and most roles feel under-written. “Ordo” will live for a time in fest land, but Euro cable is its likely rest home.

Ordo (Zem) is a French Marine of mixed race whose early life was full of broken relationships, including a brief marriage with an underage nymphet named Estelle that was busted up when her mom (Marie-France Pisier) hauled her back home. Sixteen years later, his shipmates spot his old wedding photo in a celeb magazine article on hot star-of-the-moment Louise Sandoli (Marie-Josee Croze). Seems the sexy blonde used to be Estelle, but Ordo has difficulty believing the inexperienced, immature girl he once married could be the confident superstar his mates now tease him about.

Ordo contacts Louise’s agent Richard (Yves Jacques) to try to prove to himself that Estelle and Louise can’t be the same person. He’s flown to the star’s villa in the south of France, where the all-seeing house servant Wang (Helene Patarot) greets him with suspicion. When Louise comes home, she’s trailed by an ever present posse of fellow actors and hangers-on; when they’re alone, she rekindles their passion, but refuses to revisit the past.

Without question the heart and soul of the film, Ordo is a sweet and unambitious regular Joe: the nicest guy she’s ever known, as Louise tells her agent. She, however, has a trunk full of demons kept permanently locked up.

Judicious trimming would help to refocus the film when, like Ordo’s stay in the guest house, it outlasts its welcome. The stereotyped manservant Wang, inexplicably played by a woman, is especially ripe for the cutting room floor.

Partly shot in Portugal with Canadian coin, tech credits are flawless.

Ordo

France - Canada - Portugal

Production

A Gemini Films presentation of a Gemini Films (France)/Cinemaginaire (Canada)/Madragoa Filmes (Portugal)/Maia Film (France) coproduction, with the participation of Canal Plus/Cine Cinema, Centre National de la Cinematographie, Instituto do Cinema, Audiovisual e Multimedia. (International sales: Gemini Films, Paris.) Produced by Paulo Branco. Directed by Laurence Ferreira Barbosa. Screenplay, Ferreira Barbosa, Nathalie Najem, based on the novel "Ordo" by Donald E. Westlake.

Crew

Camera (color), Julien Hirsch; editor, Isabelle Poudevigne; music, Ghislain Hervet; production designer, Isabel Branco; costume designer, Pierre-Yves Gayraud; sound (Dolby SRD), Philippe Morel. Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (competing), Aug. 5, 2004. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Roschdy Zem, Marie-Josee Croze, Marie-France Pisier, Yves Jacques, Scali Delpeyrat, Helene Patarot, Daphne Baiwir, Nina Morato.

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more