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Film Review: ‘My Soul Healed by You’

Francois Dupeyron's soulful drama is wildly uneven yet undeniably affecting.

With:
Gregory Gadebois, Celine Sallette, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Marie Payen, Philippe Rebbot, Marie Pratali, Agathe Dronne, Nathalie Boutefeu, Stephan Wojtowicz, Anthony Paliotti, Melody Soudier.

Wildly uneven yet at times undeniably affecting, Francois Dupeyron’s poetically titled “My Soul Healed by You” is a more soulful work than the helmer’s previous films, such as “Monsieur Ibrahim” and “With a Little Help From Myself,” working a realistic indie vibe in the tale of a regular Joe hesitantly accepting his gift as a healer. Based on Dupeyron’s own novel, the pic has flashes of inspiration and is best at capturing character, but the script needs tightening and the lensing is too self-consciously gritty. Local biz was slow following a late September opening, though fest life will continue apace.

It’s been five weeks since Fredi (Gregory Gadebois, “Angele and Tony”) lost his mother, and he’s not at all comfortable with the “gift” she passed on. Actually, he’s not comfortable with anything about himself: He’s depressed, he doesn’t know what to do with his young teen daughter Lucie (Melody Soudier), and now there’s this. Meanwhile, his father (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) was recently laid off and is full of working-class anger at management and the bum deal he’s been handed by life.

Riding his motorbike at night, Fredi hits a boy running after a dog; the kid suffers brain damage and is in a coma. Awash in guilt, the distraught biker sneaks into the hospital and lays his hands on the child, bringing him back from the edge. The miracle soothes Fredi’s misplaced culpability, yet he remains awash in dark incertitude and self-loathing: How else to explain his continued friendship with sleazy Nanar (Philippe Rebbot), a trailer-trash neighbor with three kids who once slept with Fredi’s AWOL wife? Nanar’s wife, Josiane (Marie Payen), and Fredi share a sympathetic bond but the possibility of developing something beyond that never quite works out.

Knowledge of Fredi’s healing powers becomes widespread, and people line up outside his double wide; he diagnoses and often cures, but sometimes there’s nothing he can do. Then he meets Nina (Celine Sallette), a champagne-swilling boozer in an even blacker place than he is, resistant to being rescued. Inexplicably drawn to this woman, he comes to believe that by helping her, he’ll heal his own soul.

Dupeyron is best at digging deep into Fredi’s character, building layers of personality with each element — epilepsy, anxiety nightmares — and getting to the heart of this deeply ambivalent man. He’s helped immeasurably by Gadebois’ fully committed performance, messy like Fredi himself, yet with a deep sense of humanity underneath the inner turmoil. Less successfully drawn is Nina, a generally tiresome creature who remains uninteresting even after her motivations are explained, if not exactly made understandable.

In contrast with Daniel Petrie’s “Resurrection,” the healing part of “My Soul” isn’t the main focus, though it allows for several moving scenes whose matter-of-fact tone contributes to their impact. That Dupeyron doesn’t get too heavy-handed this element is commendable, but a little trimming elsewhere would sharpen the result.

The helmer worked closely with d.p. Yves Angelo to achieve an informal roughness, where the camera often hovers around the characters or unexpectedly zooms in on details in a self-conscious way that’s bound to divide audiences as to its efficacy. Shots looking into the sun may be making some statement about Fredi’s heaven-sent gift, but the blinding beams will prove trying for viewers; the black-and-white dream sequences work better. Musical repetitions, including Nina Hagen’s “Lorelei,” provide thematic links but call attention to themselves without delivering much in return. The pic’s English-lingo title is also being listed as “One of a Kind,” a lackluster moniker that says nothing.

Film Review: 'My Soul Healed by You'

Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 22, 2013. (Also in Tokyo Film Festival — World Focus; Morelia Film Festival.) Running time: 124 MIN. Original title: "Mon ame par toi guerie"

Production:

(France) An Alfama Films release of an Alfama Films, Kinology production, with the participation of the CNC, in association with Cofinova 9. (International sales: Kinology, Paris.) Produced by Paulo Branco. Co-producer, Gregoire Melin.

Crew:

Directed, written by Francois Dupeyron, based on the novel “Chacun pour soi, Dieu s’en fout” by Dupeyron. Camera (color/B&W, widescreen), Yves Angelo; editor, Dominique Faysse; production designer, Bernard Bridon; costume designer, Catherine Bouchard; sound (Dolby Digital 5.1), Francois Maurel, Armelle Mahe; assistant director, Bastien Blum; casting, Brigitte Moidon.

With:

Gregory Gadebois, Celine Sallette, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Marie Payen, Philippe Rebbot, Marie Pratali, Agathe Dronne, Nathalie Boutefeu, Stephan Wojtowicz, Anthony Paliotti, Melody Soudier.

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