Small but polished, “Diary of a Young Fool” gives a matter-of-fact, moving account of a French teen’s journey from one-time offender to big-time loser. In bringing his own story to the screen, ex-con helmer Patrick Aurignac shows rock-solid writing and acting skills as well as a sure hand in keeping his cast in line. Pic should command critical plaudits at home and go on to perform respectably in arthouse release and on quality tubes. Perhaps crime will pay.
Producer Nella Banfi, who took a chance on Cyril Collard’s “Nuits fauves” a few years back, has picked another winner. Aurignac’s directing debut gives auds a sober, unspectacular peek inside prison, as well as a low-key look at life as a French bank robber. In a nice twist on the autobiographical point of view, Aurignac plays not himself but his corrupter. A simply plotted tale of a feckless youth who won’t say no to those he wishes to impress, pic uses flashbacks to tell its story of a fall from grace.
While doing a short stretch inside for a minor drug bust, Frederic (Christophe Hemon) meets the avuncular Damien (Daniel Russo) and the criminally cool Louis-Guy (Aurignac). Back outside, Frederic reluctantly goes straight, much to the delight of his long-suffering father (Francois Perier) and his sexually athletic girlfriend (Alexandra London), who once got him into trouble for a memorably over-enthusiastic prison visit.
Louis-Guy eventually arrives on the scene to lure Frederic into a life of holdups, easy money and the companionship of a compassionate hooker (Mathilde Seigner). When Damien shows up, the three men end up pulling off a big heist, which inevitably goes awry and lands everyone back in jail with stiffer sentences. At 18, Frederic is stuck inside for six more years.
Admirably paced and accomplished in its playing, with the time line as a narrative device, “Diary” also features a strong cast intent on keeping the theatrics to a lifelike minimum. Both actresses give utterly natural perfs as the two who bed the jail-bound Candide. Aurignac, as the icy Louis-Guy, almost walks away with his own life story, although Hemon, as his onscreen alter ego, works hard at getting the right mix of obnoxious naivete his role requires.
Pierre Laurent Chenieux’s lensing gives a fitting docu look to this cautionary tale. As might be expected of a helmer with Aurignac’s firsthand experience, the holdup sequences convince completely, as do the lengthy prison scenes of friendship behind bars. Agnes Guillemot’s editing is crisp. Overall, tech credits are adequate and, as befits Aurignac’s underlying message, unglamorous.
Original French title is a nice tip of the hat to a much-loved novel by satirist Topor, “Memoires d’un vieux con” (Diary of an Old Fool).