×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘Mektoub My Love: Canto Uno’

Abdellatif Kechiche returns with another heady, alluring sensory epic, but it lacks the narrative and emotional heft of his best work.

Director:
Abdellatif Kechiche
With:
Shaïn Boumédine, Ophélie Bau, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi, Delinda Kechiche, Kamel Saadi, Meleinda Elasfour, Estefania Argelish. (French, Arabic, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6121444/

Late in “Mektoub My Love: Canto Uno,” two characters make plans for a quiet, home-cooked pasta dinner. Just tomatoes, basil and garlic for the sauce, slow-cooked until rich and integrated in flavor: It’s critical, they agree, that it takes its time to simmer. Abdellatif Kechiche’s filmmaking often follows a similar recipe of everyday components turned flavorfully complex with the patient investment of time: It’s how his Palme d’Or-winning “Blue is the Warmest Color” turned an ostensibly simple story of first love and heartbreak into a human odyssey of intricate interior detail. Another gorgeous three-hour study of young, attractively housed hearts in often turbulent motion, “Mektoub” is a frequently seductive sensory epic of equivalent ambition, yet despite its woozily pleasurable set pieces, the fraught emotions binding them are less urgent, and the perspective of its protagonist far less immediate.

Somehow Kechiche — loosely adapting the novel “La blessure, la vraie” by French writer François Bégaudeau, who also provided the inspiration for Laurent Cantet’s “The Class” — hasn’t quite nailed the cooking time on “Mektoub,” the full title of which suggests we’re only getting started on this particular story universe. Where Kechiche’s last feature perfectly used its supersized running time to map the extensive internal transformation of an unformed girl growing into adulthood, the 186-minute duration of his latest feels a bit more ostentatiously stretched — with one lengthy, thrilling-to-grueling nightclub sequence, in particular, taking the film into the perverse realm of endurance cinema. The final cut reportedly arrives in Venice so fresh as to be practically bleeding; another pass through the editing suite, addressing not so much its overall length as its rhythmic lulls and lapses, could significantly enhance the distribution prospects of a film with much sensual delight to offer.

Tonally and sociologically, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is not quite as apt a point of comparison for “Mektoub” as Kechiche’s “The Secret of the Grain” — the international title of which, “Couscous,” gets a sly namecheck in the very first scene. As in that 2007 Venice prizewinner, we’re immersed here in the garrulous, family-first Franco-Tunisian community of Sete on France’s southern coast, where handsome, diffident young film buff Amin (newcomer Shaïn Boumédine, a winsome find) has returned for the summer after quitting his medicine studies in Paris to pursue a screenwriting career. The year is 1994 — as the soundtrack’s regular, pumping infusion of Eurodance staples, from Dr. Alban to Culture Beat, keeps reminding us — so Amin may not be a directly contemporary alter ego for Kechiche himself, but the film assumes his gaze with patently nostalgic affection.

Amin’s happy to spend the summer writing, dabbling in photography and poring over silent cinema classics on VHS, but his clucking, kindly mother (Kechiche’s sister Delinda, the film’s bastion of earthy warmth) is having none of it. To the beaches and bars he is sent, all but implored to live it up. With his restless, womanizing cousin Tony (Salim Kechiouche) as his wingman, Amin falls into a relaxed routine of sunbathing, drinking, partying and a whole lot of talking — with the extended family’s couscous restaurant, as in “The Secret of the Grain,” a continual hub of the action. Though Tony’s character, a thinly defined good-time-guy stereotype, remains secondary, the high-turnover carousel of his love life accounts for much of the film’s narrative motion: Among his key conquests are Charlotte (Alexia Chardard), an emotionally vulnerable tourist who invests too deeply in their fling, and local dairy farm worker Ophélie (Ophélie Bau, another appealing discovery), a close friend of Amin’s who’s merely biding her time until her presumed fiancé returns from the army.

Tony’s exploits serve chiefly to accentuate Amin’s comparative romantic awkwardness with women. Though he offers a soft, sturdy shoulder for female acquaintances to cry on, his general uncertainy of himself in most departments is plain for all to see. That makes him a naturally sympathetic anchor for the film, but not a terribly compelling one: Kechiche’s script, co-written with regular collaborator Ghalya Lacroix, keeps him a largely passive presence throughout, his innermost ideas and urges unknown to the audience, with only the suggestion of change in his future. (What the prospective “Canto Due” might have in store for him, after an open-ended but hardly sequel-baiting resolution, is anyone’s guess, given how far the film has already drifted from its source material.)

There are whispers of a possible coming-out arc here, but what’s most surprising about “Mektoub” is how conservative its interest in sexuality actually is. Kechiche wallows in visual delectation of the body, indulging in more worshipful closeups of well-turned female derrieres in wispy booty shorts than you can shake any kind of stick at. Yet beyond a pleasingly frank, messy introductory sex scene between Tony and Ophélie (bizarrely scored to Neil Diamond’s “Shilo,” of all lovemaking jams), the film’s carnality goes no deeper than this. Perhaps in doubled-down defiance of the critics who accused “Blue is the Warmest Color” of taking a masculine perspective on feminine desire, Kechiche and cinematographer Marco Graziaplena are unapologetically biased in their scrutiny of the female form, which works wittily in some scenes as a reflection of even the adult man’s most juvenile sensual awareness.

The longer this waist-level looking persists, however, the less playful it becomes, however alluringly fluid Graziaplena’s pastel-toned lensing. At points, “Mektoub” takes on a kind of cinematic leer that’s inconsistent with the otherwise empathetic, thoughtful characterization of its female ensemble — whose generation-crossing scenes together, as they mutually gossip, self-analyze and shoot the sea breeze, are the film’s spikiest and most authentic. When the younger women dance together, Kechiche captures an exhilarating sense of self-sustaining chemistry between them: Finally indifferent to the desires of men, they’re turned on and turned up by the sheer joy of their solidarity, give or take a few happy-hour cocktails. The camera, dipping endlessly to crotch height, never quite follows this subtly inverted point of view.

“Mektoub My Love: Canto Uno” is most consistently rewarding, then, when it revels in simple pleasures of physical movement and nourishment, be it the drunken high of a barroom shimmy or the warm, slurpy comforts of shellfish-tangled spaghetti on the beach. (Kechiche’s status as our foremost cinematic fetishist of eating remains deliciously undimmed.) It achieves a note of more austere poetry, meanwhile, in a rivetingly extended, documentary-style sequence of lamb birthing that briefly cleanses “Mektoub” — which translates, somewhat unilluminatingly, as “destiny” — of its exhausting whirl of human chaos. A genuine lust for life colours Kechiche’s filmmaking; in this case, his joie de vivre could stand to be a tiny bit more selective.

Venice Film Review: 'Mektoub My Love: Canto Uno'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 7, 2017. Running time: 186 MIN.

Production: (France-Italy-Tunisia) A Quat’Sous Films production in association with Good Films, Lablebi Films. (International sales: Pathe Distribution, Paris.) Producer: Abdellatif Kechiche.

Crew: Director: Abdellatif Kechiche. Screenplay: Kechiche, Ghalya Lacroix, adapted from the novel "La blessure, la vraie" by François Bégaudeau. Camera (color, widescreen): Marco Graziaplena. Editors: Nathanaëlle Gerbeaux, Maria Giménez Cavallo.

With: Shaïn Boumédine, Ophélie Bau, Salim Kechiouche, Lou Luttiau, Alexia Chardard, Hafsia Herzi, Delinda Kechiche, Kamel Saadi, Meleinda Elasfour, Estefania Argelish. (French, Arabic, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Nuri Bilge Ceylan in conversation at

    Shanghai: How Nuri Bilge Ceylan Sees the World so Differently

    At a masterclass on Thursday, Turkish film director Nuri Bilge Ceylan gave the initial impression of being an austere and unwilling participant. Wearing heavy glasses, keeping his coat on, and responding to questions rather than offering a class, his manner suggested that he was difficult. In China as the head of the Shanghai International Film [...]

  • SpiderMan Far From Home

    Hollywood Takes on Italy's Vacation-Heavy Summer Season With Blockbusters

    With upcoming movies such as “Toy Story 4,” “Men in Black: International” and “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” Hollywood studios are finally taking the plunge this year and slotting their blockbusters in Italian cinemas during the summer, a time when residents traditionally hit the beach en masse. For decades, the studios withheld their [...]

  • Easy Money

    Netflix Orders 'Snabba Cash' Series Based on Hit Movie Franchise from SF Studios

    Netflix has ordered a six-part original series based on the hit Swedish crime franchise “Snabba Cash” from SF Studios. Based on Jens Lapidus’s bestselling novels, the series is set in Stockholm’s gritty criminal underground ten years after the events depicted in the “Snabba Cash” (“Easy Money,” pictured) movie trilogy. The society has become even more [...]

  • The Kings Man

    Film News Roundup: Disney Sets 'The King's Man' Spy Comedy for February

    In today’s film news roundup, “The King’s Man” and “A Kid From Coney Island” get release dates, and “Barry” star Anthony Carrigan joins “Bill & Ted Face the Music.” RELEASE DATE Disney has set its Fox spy comedy prequel “The King’s Man” for release on Feb. 14, 2020. Disney made the announcement Wednesday at its [...]

  • Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light

    Shanghai Film Review: 'Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light'

    The bombastic English title might sound like it describes some comic book sci-fi epic, but in “Shyrakshy: Guardian of the Light” our hero does not wear a cape but a weathered cap, and the light he guards is not an interstellar death ray but the flickering beam of a battered old movie projector. Prominent Kazakh [...]

  • Wanda Film's Zeng Maojun

    Shanghai: China's Once-Mighty Wanda Casts Itself in Role of Survivor

    The soundtrack for the introductory showreel at Wednesday evening’s Shanghai press event announcing Wanda Pictures’ annual line-up was aspirational and strangely defiant.  It began with Nina Simone crooning, “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feeling good,” and then continued with “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child. “You [...]

  • 'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Fashioned 1980s'

    'The Souvenir' Costume Designer Put a Decadent Twist on Opulent ’80s Style

    Set against the backdrop of London’s early-1980s cultural renaissance, British auteur Joanna Hogg’s exquisitely sculpted and critically acclaimed “The Souvenir,” which A24 has been widening in platform release for the past month, follows film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) and her gradually destructive romance with the magnetic Anthony (Tom Burke). “We didn’t want a film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content