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25 Degrees in Winter

Comedy serves as a Trojan Horse for the dilemmas facing illegal immigrants in "25 Degrees in Winter,". Laughs are frequent, and smile-inducing moments abound. But pic never gets under the viewer's skin, so that when the meaningful message looms, the film fails to convince. First feature by French-born writer-director Stephane Vuillet is perfect for fests looking for relief without compromising their integrity and Euro B.O. looks likely.

With:
Abuelita - Carmen Maura Miguel - Jacques Gamblin Sonia - Ingeborga Dapkunaite Laura - Raphaelle Molinier Juan - Pedro Romero Loubna - Loubna Azabal Estelle - Valerie Lemaitre Yevgeni - Alexandr Medvedev

Slapstick comedy serves as a Trojan Horse for the dilemmas facing illegal immigrants in “25 Degrees in Winter,” a Europudding that warms up, but fails to thaw out completely. Genuine laughs are frequent, and smile-inducing moments abound. But pic never really gets under the viewer’s skin, so that when the deep and meaningful we’re-all-in-the-same-boat message looms, the film fails to convince. First feature by French-born writer-director Stephane Vuillet is perfect for fests looking for light relief without compromising their integrity or high moral standards, and reasonable Euro B.O. looks likely.

After a serious prologue in which a group of protestors called the Anti-Deportation League liberates a group of illegal immigrants from Belgian cops, central protag Miguel (Jacques Gamblin), a disorganized single father with a gambling problem, is awakened by an urgent telephone call from his travel agent brother, Juan (co-writer Pedro Romero), for whom he works as a courier.

Dropping his daughter Laura (Raphaelle Molinier) off at school, Miguel proceeds to the airport and, in the midst a traffic jam, finds himself the unwilling rescuer of Sonia (Ingeborga Dapkunaite), a Ukrainian math teacher who was among the refugees liberated at pic’s start.

Sonia is desperate to find her Ukrainian lover who disappeared a year ago, and Miguel finally agrees to assist her. Complicating matters is a call from Miguel’s meddling, Spanish-immigrant mother, Abuelita (Carmen Maura), who alerts her son that Laura is in the hospital after a minor classroom accident.

Once at the hospital, Miguel finds himself surrounded by three women who all know how to navigate life better than he does. Recalling American indie “The Daytrippers,” Miguel, Laura and Abuelita join in the search for Sonia’s b.f., with Miguel at the bottom of the pecking order.

In screwball fashion, things become increasingly complex, but the picture never truly rips loose. Some subplots are too convenient to be convincing and, given the subject matter, there’s the inevitable feeling that a speech or two will be forthcoming. On this front at least, film does not disappoint.

Still, this is a well-intentioned effort that manages to put a cheerful gloss on Eurofests’ sujet du jour, and could well rank among the year’s best comedies about refugees.

French thesp Gamblin’s Miguel lacks sufficient sympathy for auds to cheer him on, though other performances are generally enjoyable. Dapkunaite (“Burnt by the Sun,” “Mission Impossible”) has the more difficult task of maintaining dignity in a comedy, which she does assuredly.

Tyke Molinier does well in scenes where Laura plays foil to Miguel and Abuelita, and also convinces in the more solemn final moments. As the hero’s mom, Spanish cinema vet Maura agreeably dominates the movie as soon as she hits the screen, though this only further underlines the wishy-washy aspect of Miguel, who is plausible but tedious.

Vuillet’s direction is snappy and keeps the script rolling forward, though his choice of widescreen seems artistically unjustified. Title is supposed to indicate that this is a highly unusual day, but the weather never becomes a significant factor.

25 Degrees in Winter

Belgium-France-Spain

Production: A Man's Films (Belgium)/Lancelot Films (France)/Alokatu (Spain) production, in association with 121 Audiovisual, Canal Plus, Cinecinema, Euskal Telebista, with participation of La Communaute Francaise de Belgique & les Teledistributeurs Wallons, Vlaams Audiovisueel Fonds. (International sales: Flach Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Marion Hansel. Co-producers, Christian Tison, Jose Maria Lara. Directed by Stephane Vuillet. Screenplay, Vuillet, Pedro Romero, Stephane Malandrin.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Walther Vanden Ende; editor, Anne-Laure Guegan; music, Tristan Vuillet; art director, Manu Demeulemeester; costume designer, Bernadette Corstens; sound (DTS Stereo), Olivier Hespel. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (closing film, competing), Feb. 14, 2004. Running time: 93 MIN.

With: Abuelita - Carmen Maura Miguel - Jacques Gamblin Sonia - Ingeborga Dapkunaite Laura - Raphaelle Molinier Juan - Pedro Romero Loubna - Loubna Azabal Estelle - Valerie Lemaitre Yevgeni - Alexandr MedvedevWith: Josse de Pauw, Dominique Tack, Maureen Leleux, Bouli Lanners. (French, Spanish, Dutch, Russian dialogue)

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