A likable screw-up is granted a wish but remains comically at odds with good fortune in “Calamity Malik.” A French fest winner poised for local commercial release, this brief, engaging showcase announces both the arrival of fresh talent and a new direction in the burgeoning “banlieue” sub-genre.
To date, films about immigrant and first-generation residents of the low-income housing projects outside Paris and Lyon have tended to emphasize the more dire aspects of life among the disenfranchised. “Malik,” however, is a fanciful comedy without any 11th-hour tragedy to dampen the mood. In its own modest way, pic acknowledges that the groundwork for banlieue films has been laid, the undeniable rigors of underclass life are known to all, and it’s now OK for filmmakers of North African and Arab descent to move on to a lighter, self-mocking tone without betraying their roots.
The son of Algerian immigrants, 26-year-old Malik (lanky Samir Guesmi in a calibrated-for-laughs, highly physical perf) dreams of emigrating to Canada where, he imagines, society mimics the pristine landscapes of travel brochures. In the meantime, he’s a laughably inept petty thief.
While Malik’s soaking in the tub, Mr. Luck — a tall, officious man with a laptop computer — rises up out of the drain and offers the astonished soakee one wish, genie-style. Canada, alas, is booked, but Mr. Luck hits on another solution — or thinks he does. But because he’s dealing with Malik, the signals get crossed, and two girls fall for Malik simultaneously. Meanwhile, Malik’s stern dad warns that if he doesn’t get married he’ll be shipped back to Algeria.
Freshman helmer Youcef Hamidi has an irreverent yet affectionate feel for his characters. Malik’s buddies in the projects are a Greek chorus of razzing and ridicule. The slangy, jargon-bedecked dialogue is as snappy as the pacing, though pic ultimately carries a subtle message that minorities can’t count on luck to improve their situation.
Film won best first film and tied for best actor at Amiens.