Le Grande Role a.k.a The Grand Role is a very intriguing, perhaps too ambitious, production which offers a great cast and a generally interesting story set in modern day Paris where a group of young Jewish actors are determined to make it in an American remake of the Merchant of Venice. In a contagious mix poking fun of just about everything and everyone, from Shakespeare to Al Pacino and from Tom Cruise to Othello, The Grand Role is what the French appropriately describe as Comédie dramatique.
The bulk of the story is built around Maurice Kurtz (Stephane Freiss), his lovely wife Perla (Berenice Bejo), and of course Maurice's enigmatic friends. During the course of The Grand Role Maurice will win the leading role in the Merchant of Venice, he will discover that Perla is critically ill, and consequently lose the coveted role in return for a much more demanding and complicated character which he has to portray on a daily basis.
While The Grand Role certainly prides itself as a light comedy sprinkled with a mix of controversial flavors underneath it there are more than just a few simple laughs. The secondary characters are just as important as Maurice and some of the misfortune they have to deal with most certainly leaves its mark on an otherwise rather lighthearted feature. The result as you might guess is a film of unbridled emotions which switch as quickly as Maurice's luck during crucial auditions.
The Grand Role also offers an unusual cameo performance by old charmer Peter Coyote who due to some unknown to me reason French directors seem to regard as the perfect choice every time a native English speaker is needed in their films. Once part of Roman Polanski's Bitter Moon (1992) and more recently Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Bon Voyage (2003) Peter Coyote plays the role of an eccentric Jewish-American director obsessed with the idea of putting together the Merchant of Venice entirely in Yiddish. I am not quite so certain what the real story is, perhaps Peter Coyote exemplifies something I fail to recognize, but to be honest his presence in foreign films including his memorable role in Pedro Almodovar's Kika (1993) always makes me a bit uncomfortable. Regardless, in The Grand Role he does indeed seem like the perfect choice for the American director looking to materialize a life-long dream.
There is hardly anything in The Grand Role which you have not seen on film before. The story is quite predictable, the acting is fresh and solid but not exceptional, and the visuals truly nothing to write home about. The cast generally speaking does a great job of maintaining a tempo which would keep you interested and willing to go until the end credits roll though I could not stop thinking that the dialog could have been a bit edgier hence spicing up this otherwise pleasurable story. Ultimately, this is not a film that will change your perception about the values of foreign cinema though it is likely to put a few smiles on your face.
In 2004 Le Grande Role was nominate for a Grand Prix (Steve Suissa) during the Paris Film Festival.
How Does the Film Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's this transfer does appear to be a PAL to NTSC port as there is some visible "ghosting" present. With this said everything else is quite good in terms of picture quality- colors are bright, contrast at satisfactory level, the print looks to be of excellent quality. It is a shame really that First Run continue to deliver improperly converted prints as everything else from their film selection to extras and presentation is just great.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a French Dolby 2.0 track and burnt-in English subtitles generally speaking the sound quality is acceptable. It could have been great if the company-producer would have added up a French 5.1 track as the soundtrack is simply marvelous but aside from that I don't see anything that I can criticize in this review.
Aside from a short director's introduction (text format), a photo gallery, and a few trailers for other catalog releases by Furst Run there is nothing else to be found on this DVD release.
While not the most original French production you would see this year The Grand Role certainly deserves a rental. With solid performances and a superb soundtrack this film could be a great choice for those looking to rent something fresh and entertaining. With this said I am once again disappointed that First Run have provided a PAL port for this feature with fixed subtitles. I am sure they could have done much, much better, RENT IT.