Not to be confused with the Fox Searchlight period drama starring Saoirse Ronan, “Brooklyn” follows an aspiring young female rapper as she wades into the multiethnic hip-hop scene of the northern Paris district Saint-Denis. Like first-generation hip-hop movies such as “Wild Style,” Pascal Tessaud’s slender but likable debut feature is less interested in narrative than in showcasing a semi-underground culture and a lot of talent on the mic, with relatively few professional actors cast here. The result will tempt little theatrical exposure outside French-speaking territories, but should appeal to more adventuresome hip-hop fans via home formats farther afield.
Dreadlocked Coralie (KT Gorique) is 22 years old — and that’s about all we know about her when she arrives in the City of Light from Switzerland, apart from a very brief mention of her mother (dead) and father (estranged). Knowing no one, but clearly accustomed to making her own opportunities, she promptly talks her way into renting a room in the flat of elderly spinster Odette (Liliane Rovere) while working in various locations as a housekeeper and/or cook. One such gig is for a Saint-Denis collective of rappers, poets and other artists being mentored with a committed but firm hand by older community organizer/music producer Yazid (Jalil Naciri).
Yazid’s star protege is handsome, crowdpleasing rhymer Issa (Rafal Uchiwa), though things come perhaps a little too easily for him — especially when a slick promoter tries to lure him away from Yazid’s politically conscious aesthetic and noncommercial aims. His departure for illusionary greener pastures makes room for the emergence of Brooklyn (Coraline’s stage name) as the group’s new potential breakout star — a changing of the guard that coincides with the awkward end of her brief romantic sparks with Issa. He gets his revenge in an act of theft that constitutes the sole potent plot turn in Tessaud’s casual, impressionistic screenplay. But even that event, and some retaliatory actions, are scarcely exploited for dramatic effect.
Nonetheless, the sketchy storytelling is compensated for by the strong personalities and natural appeal of the actors, as well as a fresh, unbelabored take on multicultural life on the housing-project outskirts of Paris. Sometimes the writer-helmer’s casual relationship toward character explication pays off: We’re pleasantly surprised when spry octogenarian vet Rovere’s landlady turns out not to be the disapproving prude expected, then amused when she reveals quite the jones for party-hearty Issa’s pot supply. Best of all, the young leads and a host of other local rappers playing themselves shine in often first-rate rap and spoken-word performance segments.
Packaging is deliberately raw and immediate, but “Brooklyn” nonetheless moves along with an amiable assurance.