'The Straight Line'

A straightforward and intimate two-hander that uses sports as a somewhat shopworn but nonetheless effective metaphor for overcoming hardship.

A young French runner who has recently become blind has to put his trust in a distaff coach with a dark past in “The Straight Line.” More famous for such lavishly mounted and intricately plotted productions as “East/West” and “Indochine,” Gallic scribe-helmer Regis Wargnier here delivers a straightforward and intimate two-hander that uses sports as a somewhat shopworn but nonetheless effective metaphor for overcoming hardship, in this case for both leads. Local March release opened to OK results and will run a few laps around the fest circuit and at Francophone film events.

Not long after former athlete Leila (Rachida Brakni) is released from prison, she’s back at the racetrack, where she bumps into young hothead Yannick (Cyril Descours), who wants to continue as a runner even though a recent accident has left him completely blind. Before you can say “plot contrivance,” the two are training together, though initially Yannick is unaware of Leila’s background, which includes not only her prison sentence but also a young son adopted by Leila’s surly brother-in-law (Gregory Gadebois), who doesn’t want her near the boy.

“Indochine” aside, Wargnier’s films have never been known for the strength of their screenplays, though “The Straight Line” marks the first time the filmmaker has been the only credited screenwriter. His setup here is rather schematic but dramatically potent, and cleverly heightened by the fact that blind runners need to run accompanied by a guide. This means that Leila’s job is not only to coach Yannick, but also to work on actually running the race completely in synch with him, guiding him through the stadium.

Thus, their growing personal relationship and their work on the racetrack, er, run pretty much parallel. Except for a few galumphing sequences — notably two scenes in which Leila abandons Yannick — the structure is thus a classical but very solid one. With its down-to-earth approach to blindness and Leila’s issues, pic mostly steers clear of overt melodrama, despite an insistent score from regular collaborator Patrick Doyle (who also worked on “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”). Yannick’s growing attraction to his guide is played just right, down to the film’s neat final shot.

Brakni, who has an athletic background herself, is absolutely credible in her role. She’s ably supported by an equally physical perf from up-and-comer Descours (“Partners”), who succeeds in showing the anger and rage that make Yannick not only a firebrand but also a fighter and, potentially, a winner. Supporting roles are all smartly cast, including actual blind runners and their guides — a touch that not only adds authenticity but also reveals how convincing Brakni and Descours are.

Widescreen lensing by Laurent Dailland, another Wargnier regular, is strong, cleverly using individual shots and two-shots to visually underline the different stages of the relationship between the protags. The many race sequences are also expertly captured, with the odd exception of the final race, which was either shot on cheap video or over-processed in postproduction to the point of becoming visually jarring.

The Straight Line

France

Production

A Gaumont release and presentation of a Gaumont, France 2 Cinema production, in association with Canal Plus, CineCinema, France Televisions. (International sales: Gaumont, Paris.) Produced by Jean Cottin. Executive producer, Sidonie Dumas. Directed, written by Regis Wargnier.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Laurent Dailland; editor, Simon Jacquet; music, Patrick Doyle; production designer, Yohann Georges; costume designer, Pierre-Yves Gayraud; sound (Dolby), Antoine Deflandre, Patrice Grisolet, Franco Piscopo; associate producer, Marc de Lacharriere; assistant director, Laure Prevost; casting, Pierre-Jacques Benichou. Reviewed at Kinepolis, Saint-Julien-les-Metz, France, March 10, 2011. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Rachida Brakni, Cyril Descours, Clementine Celarie, Seydina Balde, Thierry Godard, Gregory Gadebois, Gautier Tresor Makunda, Aladji Ba, Romain Goupil. (French, English, Arabic dialogue)

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