Predictable yet charming, crowd-pleasing dramatic comedy about love, friendship, role-playing and Jewish pride that echoes "well-intentioned ruse" plot elements. Sophomore effort from actor-helmer Steve Suissa will play well beyond the Jewish fest circuit on the strength of positive word-of-mouth.

Predictable yet charming, “The Grand Role” is a crowd-pleasing dramatic comedy about love, friendship, role-playing and Jewish pride that echoes the “well-intentioned ruse” plot elements of such disparate works as Jacques Fansten’s “Cross My Heart,” Laurent Cantet’s “Time Out” and Wolfgang Becker’s “Good Bye, Lenin!” Sophomore effort from actor-helmer Steve Suissa (“Taking Wing”) emerged empty-handed from Paris fest competish and kept a low profile in a non-competitive Karlovy Vary section, but will play well beyond the Jewish fest circuit on the strength of positive word-of-mouth, surfing fall opening in Gaul to good arthouse biz, tube sales and homevid runs.

So in love with his wife, Perla (Berenice Bejo), that he photographs her when she’s not looking just for the heck of it, struggling Parisian actor Maurice Kurtz (Stephane Freiss) earns a meager income dubbing foreign films with pals Simon (Lionel Abelanski), Elie (Laurent Bateau), Edouard (Stephan Guerin-Tillie) and Sami (Olivier Sitruk).

When news hits that A-list superstar American film director Grishenberg (Peter Coyote) is prepping a big-budget Yiddish-lingo movie version of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” the boys gear up for the audition with unrestrained enthusiasm. “Come dressed as a Jew,” advises their blustery agent, Benny (Francois Berleand).

To his astonishment, Maurice lands the coveted role of Shylock, only to lose it a few days later when Grishenberg is forced to give it to an American star. In the meantime, Perla has discovered she’s dying of cancer. Balance of pic finds Maurice and his chums going to ever greater lengths to make Perla feel better by persuading her that in his new role, her hubby’s the toast of the town.

Though telegraphing its every move with unabashed cheerfulness, “Grand Role” benefits from a sprightly pace, sunny thesping (though camaraderie among the chums is occasionally forced) and fine comic timing. Conceit of Grishenberg’s determination to shoot in Yiddish echoes a certain recent faith-based B.O smash, while Coyote himself delivers the best line: After being kidnapped in his own limo, Grishenberg refuses to meet Perla and go along with the gag. “I’m an American,” he says with brittle dignity. “Americans don’t lie.”

Appropriately for a film emphasizing words and relationships, the tech package is discreetly capable. Pungent use is made of Charles Aznavour’s vigorous “Le temps” over opening and closing credits. Suissa appears in the small role of Perla’s sister’s husband.

The Grand Role

France

Production

A Mars Distribution release of an Egerie, les Films de l'Espoir production, in co-production with 7IA, Les Films Alain Sarde, Caroline Prods., AB3. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced, directed by Steve Suissa. Screenplay, Daniel Cohen, Sophie Lapidis Fepper, Suissa, from the novel by Daniel Goldenberg.

Crew

Camera (color), Christophe Offenstein, Guillaume Schiffman; editors, Monica Coleman, Nevil Coleman; music, David Marouani; costume designer, Alice Dupays; sound, Sophie Laloy. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Horizons), July 10, 2004. (Also in Paris Film Festival.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Maurice Kurtz - Stephane Freiss Perla Kurtz - Berenice Bejo Grishenberg - Peter Coyote Debby Grishenberg - Paola Perez Simon - Lionel Abelanski Elie - Laurent Bateau Edouard - Stephan Guerin-Tillie Sami - Olivier Sitruk Benny - Francois Berleand
With: Valerie Benguigui, Rufus, Smadi Wolfman, Steve Suissa. (French, Yiddish dialogue.)

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