A semi-naive young woman enters a masculine sphere with surprising results in “Not For Or Against,” a well-cast contempo tale of criminals aiming at a big score. Film is unusually muscular for a French production and marks something of a departure for helmer Cedric Klapisch from his usual character-based fare like “Euro Pudding” and “When the Cat’s Away…” While narrative’s motivations are not always rock solid, cinematic execution is sharp and entertaining. Local auds will almost certainly be “for” and foreign distribs won’t be “against.”
A small-town girl who moved to Paris three years earlier, 27-year-old Caty (Marie Gillain) works as a TV news camerawoman. Whether by choice or not, she appears to have no friends. Following an assignment to tape an interview with a call girl, the interviewee asks Caty if she’d “like to make a lot of money fast.”
Intrigued, Caty soon finds herself in a cafe with confident, nicely groomed Jean (Vincent Elbaz), who offers her a pile of cash to tape a hold-up as it takes place. Initially reluctant to get mixed up in something illegal — as well as potentially violent — Caty later changes her mind after Jean suavely demonstrates how easy it can be to rob a jewelry store. As she says in voiceover: “Two paths opened before me: good and bad. Bad seemed more promising.”
Caty’s soon hanging with Jean, who’s HQ is an upscale topless cabaret just off the Champs-Elysees. His partners-in-crime, all of whom have done time, include Lecarpe (Simon Abkarian), who’s married and runs a kebab-and-fries shop with his wife, and Mouss (Zinedine Soualem), who choreographs the dance numbers at the club. The three men share a sort of old-fashioned gangsters’ code of honor. Fourth member of the group is the much younger Loulou (Dimitri Storoge), a fearless hoodlum with no code whatsoever, except getting and spending his cut.
Caty evolves from giggle-prone novice to a gun-toting one-of-the-guys dame. When Jean reveals an ambitious plan that calls for Caty to pose as a call girl, she has to decide whether to sign up as a full-bore accomplice.
Caty’s decision to start committing armed robberies is a bit of a stretch, given that she already has a genuine profession of her own. Script also never really explains why Jean felt he needed a professional camerawoman’s services in the first place. Those minor glitches aside, pic functions neatly as a primer on how to rob stores, steal cars, frolic with call girls, trash luxury hotel rooms and walk the line between harmless citizen and menace to society. Screenplay is infinitely better than that penned by the same trio for Klapisch’s 1999 sci-fi misfire, “Maybe.”
There’s also plenty of humor along the way. A scene in which Lecarpe attempts to lecture his scofflaw son is particularly amusing, as is a high-octane seg in which Jean improves Mouss’ water-skiing technique by firing live rounds at him from the boat. Proceedings grow progressively darker as the stakes skyrocket.
Klapisch makes fine use of Paris and Cannes locations and Bruno Delbonnel (“Amelie”) makes the most of the widescreen frame. Criminal interludes have a smooth, matter-of-fact rhythm that presents thievery as a job much like any other. After exploring whether or not crime can pay, pic leaves the question open until the final scenes.
Thesps are convincing as more or less ordinary folks who can summon powerful stores of menace when needed. Unlike most dramatic set-ups of this kind, where at least one participant is psychotic, drug-addled or bent on revenge — nobody is seriously demented: Storoge’s Loulou is simply low on social niceties.
Jazzy score is discreet and effective.