A far cry from the ethnic feel-good wedding pics inundating domestic shores, Julius Amedee Laou’s low-budget “French Wedding” peels back layers of West Indian bonhomie to lay bare a core of cultural confusion and self-loathing. In the process, pic delivers a surprising feminist critique of the culture of the Caribbean isles. DV-shot film’s deliberately amateurish “video diary” look disguises painstakingly careful compositions and a rigorous structure. A bit too off-kilter in terms of both subject matter and general treatment for regular arthouse fare, pic could find its aud on indie cable.
The makeup of the bridal party suggests a racial divide — the groom is white, the bride black. Not only that, but the bride’s genial father has theoretical reservations about mixed marriages while the groom’s uptight mother can barely contain her bone-deep bigotry. Yet most of the conflict that arises within the large, already integrated West Indian family living in France is triggered not by race but by personality.
First half of pic is seen through the eyes and accompanied by the breezy voice-over of the teenage brother of the bride who, having missed the wedding ceremony because he was dallying with his girlfriend, seeks to make amends by filming the reception. He introduces the clan, exclaiming loud and long over the idiocy of female cousins who deny their patent “blackness” but framing the men without editorial commentary even though they hold forth ad aburdum on the sexual prowess of the prodigiously hung father of the bride.
The bride’s ex-boyfriend arrives with a poisonous wedding gift: a porn film starring the newlywed wife. The groom’s mother succumbs to febrile hysteria, while uncles heap blame on the silently weeping bride. Even the brother abandons his sister and his video camera to sulk in his room.
At this point, pic’s central axis shifts. The bride’s sister picks up her brother’s camera and pushes the “record” button as the women take up the defense of the bride.
In contrast to the cocksure exuberance of the teen boy’s video stylings (backing up to neatly include himself in the frame, strategically provoking reactions in his elderly relatives), helmer Laou creates a far more nuanced, complex digital palette for the girl. When she ventures into the outside world in search of the distraught bride, the streets register in a blue-tinged monochrome, isolating the colorful family home. An emotional confrontation with her mother, wherein the daughter rants about the unendurable pain of being a woman in a society where she is seen as sexual prey, occasions a switch in point of view, her mother appropriating the camera to capture her daughter’s lament.
Finally, the sister and her camera go into hiding when her grandmother, imperious matriarch and all-knowing keeper of terrible family secrets, feigns illness in order to blackmail her sons, one by one, into supporting their niece.