Appropriately shambolic yet finally too unfocused, “Pirate TV” follows an idealistic country bumpkin who joins a rebellious DIY television station in Paris. Set in the mid-1990s, when the emergence of vidcameras made it possible for the masses to cheaply shoot their own TV-style programs but had trouble broadcasting the resulting audiovisual doodles, this latest effort from scribe-helmer Michel Leclerc (“The Names of Love”) offers a meandering mish-mash of relational and technical troubles that lacks any true coherence. Locally, auds might recognize the pic’s direct inspiration, Tele Bocal, but abroad, it will prove too culturally specific to gain much traction.
Teen beanpole Victor (Felix Moati) is more passionate than knowledgeable about films, practicing acceptance speeches for an audience of one: himself. His working-class parents (Christiane Millet, Francois-Eric Gendron) think Pasolini is a brand of pasta, but when his mother wins a visit to the TV set of her favorite talkshow (hosted by Emmanuelle Beart, in a cameo), Victor tags along, manages to land a job as an intern and subsequently moves to the City of Lights (interns were clearly very well paid in 1990s France).
Victor quickly falls in with creative small-time crook Eric-Lou (Eric Elmosnino), his political firebrand g.f. (Maiwenn) and their motley crew of stock two-dimensional types. Together they run Tele Gaucho, a tiny TV station with vain hopes of overthrowing the hegemony of the broadcasting giants for whom Victor secretly continues to intern.
A romantic optimist by nature who tries hard to conform to the channel’s nonconformism, Victor finds himself shooting tongue-in-cheek short programs with titles such as “Objects That Annoy Us,” and “I Used to Believe That … ,” humorous segments of a sort that the director himself shot during his time at Tele Bocal.
The energetic early going has some fun with the perceived differences between mass-market TV and the elevated world of cinema, though even here Leclerc, who co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Lilti, seems uninterested in exploring some of the film’s naturally suggested themes in great depth. Since the helmer is wading into semi-autobiographical territory (his short “Le Poteau rose” already mined similar territory), one could expect that a simple re-creation of the wild energy and confused ideals of Bocal might in and of itself be interesting.
But for anyone without similar experiences, “Pirate TV” will feel like a random pileup of events in the lives of Victor and his ragtag friends. This is especially obvious in Leclerc’s conception of Clara (Sara Forestier, “The Names of Love”), Victor’s dumb-blonde g.f. Her purposes in the film are to saddle Victor with responsibility (they have a child they name after Antoine Doinel); to provide some gratuitous nudity; and to make auds chuckle along with her constant embodiment of Murphy’s Law. But the character never comes to life or feels coherent.
Moati (“Lol”), the son of TV journo Serge Moati, knows his way around the material, and his natural charm helps smooth over the film’s obvious uncertainty about his character’s status (is he the protag or just a member of a group?). Maiwenn and Elmosnino are pros, but their characters as written lack depth, and Forestier is game in a part that’s all over the place. All the other roles are as flat as a TV screen.
Technically, d.p. Guillaume Deffontaines has fun integrating some material shot in blocky Super 8, while editor Annette Dutertre smoothly splices in some real Tele Bocal footage, suggesting “Pirate TV” at least has the look and feel of the period.