A completely insular but darkly amusing film-within-a-film, Paul Vecchiali’s umpteenth pic “Please Give Generously” is a sometimes rankly amateurish, sometimes educational and sometimes heartbreaking riff on the pitfalls of truly independent filmmaking in France today. Although it will appear impenetrable to non-initiates (most people, even in Gaul), pic is simultaneously a tribute to Jacques Demy (about a dozen scenes are sung), a valentine to seat-of-your-pants indie filmmaking, and a jovially scathing indictment of the government-administered system for allotting funding to less mainstream film projects. Directors Fortnight screening is likely to be the highlight of this endearing oddity’s career.
Gleefully self-reflexive plot concerns Paul Vecchiali’s (as himself) attempts to complete a film-in-progress about a young heroin addict (Matthieu Marie) and his devoted non-addict girlfriend (Elsa Lepoivre). Screenplay is his 20th to be rejected by the National Cinema Center’s “avance sur recettes” grant board, a jump-starting entity for struggling filmmakers set up in the 1960s whose thumbs up has become a crucial component of Gallic financing.
As they debate the scant merits of Vecchiali’s latest submission, the nine members of the grant board (all played by actual French cinema figures who are complicit friends of the helmer) are shot “Hollywood Squares” style in shifting rectangles on screen. It’s a wonderful set piece for a limited but sure-to-be appreciative audience.
Key members of Vecchiali’s crew decide to bump off the nine offending figures. As the cinema-specific crime wave unfurls and newscasters report that authorities see no real links between the murders, a mute roller-blading thief changes lives in a Paris ‘burb by distributing envelopes of cash, seemingly at random, to the poor.
In two absolutely majestic scenes — a riveting song in praise of Demy and a lengthy closing speech — Francoise Lebrun, who earned her thesping stripes in 1973’s “The Mother and the Whore,” proves anew that she is a supreme master of the sustained monologue. Other thesping is hit or miss but unfailingly gung ho.
Fittingly, the commission so merrily lampooned in pic turned the film down flat.