One of a series of government commissioned projects on the tough outer suburbs of France’s cities, “Zone Franche” is a docu-fiction slice of life in the housing projects of Alsace taken directly from the experience of residents who collaborated on the screenplay and make up the cast. Shot in 16 days on a minuscule budget, this earnest but dramatically unconvincing operation by maverick filmmaker Paul Vecchiali seems at times like a video pamphlet for interracial good-neighborliness and appears likely to land exposure mainly in cultural institute screenings.
Set in Les Coteaux on the outskirts of Mulhouse in Alsace, the drama begins with the arrival in the quarter of a family of African origin. This immediately irks a couple of xenophobic pensioners. Charles and Francoise Teffal (Jean-Marie Meshaka, Maryse Grob), who lack the economic means to move out of the multicultural melting pot.
Convinced he saw an Arab neighbor stealing from the new arrivals, Charles alerts the cops. But the head of the family, Prisca (Isabelle Fertala), refuses to acknowledge the theft, making an enemy of crooked police inspector Grosset (Jacques Le Carpentier). As the African and Middle Eastern factions begin to integrate. Grosset’s methods of creating friction and finding pawns to arrest within the quarter become more heavy-handed.
Vecchiali’s view of the [7mbanlieue[22;27m is more tinged by irony than, say, Mathieu Kassovitz’s in “Hate.” But he steers the proceedings in a predictably tragic direction, pessimistically underlining the impossibility of true racial harmony, when Teffal snaps due to the noise of late-night revelers under his window. Characters are clumsily developed, and the attempt to bring some cinema veritestyle grit to the drama is sabotaged by overly scripted dialogue and inconsistent performances from the mainly non-pro cast.