Five days in the life of an average Parisian family are put under the microscope in "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life."

Five days in the life of an average Parisian family are put under the microscope in “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.” Helmer Remi Bezancon’s sophomore effort largely succeeds in creating that fuzzy feeling through a potent blend of thesping, camerawork and music, even if it occasionally stumbles in the script department. Clearly inspired by “C.R.A.Z.Y.,” even down to using one of its thesps, this looks set to outperform that 2005 Canuck delight everywhere, especially with its veneer of French classiness. Minimal decline in pic’s second week in Gaul suggests great word of mouth so far.

Both pics are French-language portraits of dysfunctional families that span more than a decade and feature slick camera moves, editing and great music (David Bowie is on both soundtracks). However, “First Day” lacks the overall focus “C.R.A.Z.Y.” achieved through the sexual confusion of its main protag.

Narrative is shaped by Bezancon’s choice to zoom in on five specific days, from 1988-2000, with flashbacks smoothing out most wrinkles caused by the narrow timeframe. Each day showcases an emotional turning point for one of the characters, while other stories continue to develop in the background. Result is a tightly knit, bittersweet crowdpleaser that stays just on the right side of syrupy.

Robert Duval (Jacques Gamblin) is a taxi driver indebted to his father (Roger Dumas) for his comfortable house in the ‘burbs. With his former hippie wife, Marie-Jeanne (Zabou Breitman), he has three children: pragmatic medical student Albert (Pio Marmai), procrastinating teenager Raphael (Quebecois hunk Marc-Andre Grondin, from “C.R.A.Z.Y.”) and grungy tomboy Fleur (Deborah Francois).

Pic explores father-son relationships by contrasting how Robert is treated by his father and how he treats his own children, and also touches on subjects like infidelity (through a delicately handled storyline involving Marie-Jeanne), sex, ambition and identity (through the stories of the kids). Gentle humor, including a sequence at an air-guitar contest, offsets the darker moments.

Actors show a nice complicity, with Gamblin and Grondin the standouts. Newcomer Marmai is charming as a medical student but makes for a lightweight doctor. As evidenced by the way Bezancon handles the discovery of Fleur’s saucy secrets by her mother, believable female roles are not the writer-helmer’s strong suit. Breitman and Francois compensate with their larger-than-life screen presences, though Cecile Cassel, as Albert’s paramour, barely registers.

D.p. Antoine Monod has fun devising a different visual style for each of the five days while retaining an overall coherence, and is aided by excellent production and costume design. Omnipresent music is heavy on famous tunes.

Pic’s title was inspired by a phrase in the much darker “American Beauty,” not the eponymous 1998 Etienne Daho song that accompanies the end credits.

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

France

Production

A StudioCanal release of a Mandarin Cinema, StudioCanal, France 2 Cinema production. (International sales: StudioCanal, Paris.) Produced by Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer, Isabelle Grellat. Directed, written by Remi Bezancon.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Antoine Monod; editor, Sophie Reine; music, Sinclair; production designer, Maamar Ech-Cheikh; costume designer, Marie-Laure Lasson; sound (Dolby DTS), Eddy Laurent, Olivier Walczak, Anne Gibourg, Emmanuel Croset; assistant director, Jean-Louis Fremont; casting, Maya Serrulla. Reviewed at Utopia, Luxembourg, July 29, 2008. Running time: 114 MIN.

With

Jacques Gamblin, Zabou Breitman, Deborah Francois, Marc-Andre Grondin, Pio Marmai, Roger Dumas, Cecile Cassel.
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