Two generations of children cope with life, death and their overbearing Jewish parents in "Cycles," a tightly scripted but loosely helmed family saga by first timer Cyril Gelblat.
Two generations of children cope with life, death and their overbearing Jewish parents in “Cycles,” a tightly scripted but loosely helmed family saga by first timer Cyril Gelblat. Paris-set tale follows a pair of divorced siblings caught between their Alzheimer’s-ridden immigrant mother and promiscuous adolescent offspring, all the while trying to restart their love lives before age takes its toll. Script skillfully alternates dramatic and mundane moments but by-the-book filming feels more Lifetime network than real-life, making for a pleasant tube and festival product that won’t cycle far beyond Jewish events.
Most action takes place in Paris’ Marais district — once a bastion of Central Euro Ashkenazi settlers in the garment business, now filled with swanky boutiques and restaurants. It’s here that 70-year-old Frida (Shulamit Adar) wanders the streets looking for her Polish ghetto survivor husband (Andre Oumansky). He passed away years ago but remains alive in a series of vid recordings that punctuate the movie.
Frida’s two children — over-protective divorcee mom Judith (Miou-Miou) and neurotic writer Simon (Charles Berling) — spend pic’s opening reels fishing her in from various locations around town. When Frida shows up confused and unannounced at the apartment of thirtysomething lawyer Manou (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), Simon, who inherited the place from his parents, comes to her rescue.
Simon and Manou begin a passionate affair where Simon — divorced himself and father of a cagey teenage daughter (Anais Demoustier) — rediscovers the apartment of his youth.
Meanwhile, Judith’s two children are moving out or getting married, leaving her alone, facing menopause and looking for a new companion with whom to pass the golden years. She begins a brief affair with an old high-school b.f. (Romain Goupil) which leads to some laughs but not much else.
Pic’s second half details Frida’s move to a retirement facility as her mental illness becomes more severe.
Gelblat, who previously directed two shorts, has a knack for depicting the humble, everyday struggles of a close-knit family. His well-structured script manages to relate the story in a natural but captivating fashion, using small-scale events to reveal universal truths. But his direction resorts to textbook tearjerking in dramatic moments and casual, two-shot conversations in the rest.
Berling gives his usual physically intense performance, while Miou-Miou incarnates the aging Judith with comic restraint. But true star is the near-silent yet highly expressive Adar, whose Frida recalls the role she portrayed in Emmanuel Finkiel’s “Voyages” (1999), another tale of Jewish survivors. Docu-style lensing by Jean-Marc Fabre (“Lemming”) faithfully captures the changing landscape of one of Paris’ most prized neighborhoods.