This review was updated on March 3, 2005
Cross-cultural conflict comes up trumps in the stimulating melodrama-cum-crimer “Gamblers,” a Paris-set matching of Chinese and Armenian immigrants all trying to survive. While plotting sometimes feels a little forced, characters sit truthfully within the realistic atmosphere established by first-time writer-director Frederic Balekdijan. Arthouse distribs who were excited by Stephen Frears’ London-set immigrant pic “Dirty Pretty Things” may find that taking a punt on fresh Euro talent will pay off.
Hustlers Vahe (Pascal Elbe), Toros (Isaac Sharry) and ringleader Sahak (Simon Abkarian) try to make ends meet by using the old standby of street life, the three-card con. As the trio fleeces a rube of 100 euros, they’re watched closely by Yuen (Teng Feixiang), the illegal immigrant brother of Vahe’s g.f. Lu Ann (Linh Dan Pham).
A loose cannon, Yuen is undisciplined, disruptive and not fully cognizant of the repercussions of enraging the criminal network that imported him into Paris as cheap labor. Reminiscent of the electric atmosphere of “Laws of Gravity” — and even “Mean Streets” — the meller elements dominate here. But they pay off thanks largely to the ensemble’s credible performances as street hustlers.
The drawn-out metro chase that develops from a later three-card con feels artificially tacked onto the narrative. But it does work as a resolution to the plot, which shows signs of wandering at the two-thirds mark. Also compensating for times when the pic’s uneven tapestry loses its thread is Balekdijan’s intimately authentic presentation of the Rue St. Denis fashion district.
Overall, direction has an edgy energy. As the practical but frustrated Vahe, Elbe gives a subtle and winning performance. Scenes between him and Linh are sometimes awkward but accurately project the electricity in their intimate history.
Pierre Milon’s lensing is saturated with blues and grays, and other tech credits are skilfully applied. Original title means “bad players,” a much more accurate description of the characters than “Gamblers.”