On the outskirts of Paris, in a neighborhood full of Muslim immigrants, Krimo (Osman Elkharraz) has fallen in love with Lydia (Sara Forestier). Unsure how to reveal his feelings to Lydia the young boy decides to join her classmates as they prepare to stage a famous play by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux. But learning to recite an 18th century play in a part of town where derogatory language is the norm is not the easiest of tasks – day after day Krimo will struggle with the play until he finally decides that it wasn't meant to be, he will never be an actor.
But the moments Krimo spends with Lydia practicing those tricky lines would turn the youngster's world upside down. His "woman", an angry girl determined to prove that Krimo is still her "man", decides to "straighten it up" and confront Lydia in front of everyone else. So is Fathi (Hafet Ben-Ahmed), Krimo's best friend, who is visibly dejected that his "homie" has lost his mind over a girl. In the meantime there are only a few days left before Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux's play is to be staged.
Winner of a half-dozen prestigious awards including the Cesar Awards for Best Director (Abdel Kechiche), Best Film, Most Promising Actress (Sara Forester), and Best Original Writing (Ghalia Lacroix/ Abdel Kechiche) L'Esquive a.k.a Games of Love and Chance (2003) is a spectacular film about inner-city life and the sea of emotions a young boy struggles to control. As beautiful to behold as Lila dit Ca a.k.a Lila Says (2004) yet as edgy and provocative as Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine (1995) Abdel Kechiche's L'Esquive manages to achieve what very few contemporary films about inner-city life have: believability.
Furthermore, unlike Oklahoma-born Larry Clark whose films reached a level of absurdity (Ken Park/ Kids) with its emphasis on sex and derogatory language or Swedish director Lukas Moodysson (Fucking Amal) who adopted a rather minimalist style of storytelling bordering exploitation (A Hole in My Heart) L'Esquive attempts to reveal the class and social limitations immigrant kids face by focusing on a classic play which strangely enough does not seem outdated at all. The parallels which Abdel Kechiche draws between reality, social perceptions, and Harlequin's love yearnings are impressive.
The true surprise in L'Esquive however is the unnaturally good performance by young Sara Forestier (prior to her involvement with this film she had only a minor role in Yolande Zauberman's touchy La Guerre a Paris a.k.a The War in Paris) playing the controversial Lydia. The girl is so impressive with her acting skills that I actually had to see the film twice in 24 hours to appreciate fully her nuanced performance. There is something very, very strange about the easiness with which she switches between the character she plays in Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux's play and the troublesome Lydia causing havoc in the neighborhood.
Each year I tend to look at the Cesar Awards with mixed feelings. In a manner similar to the Spanish Goya awards at times the jury likes to recognize films that are anything but the best the French film industry has created (most certainly on the expense of other more exciting productions). I am however in total agreement with the numerous Cesar awards L'Esquive earned in 2005. This is a raw, poignant, and perfectly executed film about a group of inner-city kids that is as convincing as a film dealing with the subject can be.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's the print herein reviewed appears to have been supplied from a secondary PAL master (the film was shot with a DV hand-held camera). Therefore there is a substantial amount of "ghosting" which is likely to plague the viewing experience of those with more sensitive equipments. This being said, L'Esquive offers an intentionally dirty and rather gritty look as to recreate that sense of cold reality the story aspires to recreate. The rest of the presentation which I assume is quite similar to the one offered in the unsubbed French disc is rather well handled.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with its original Dolby Digital 2.0 French track and optional English subtitles the film sounds very well. As this is a mostly dialog-driven picture the inclusion of a simple 2.0 track is more than adequate. I did not notice any detrimental pop-ups or cracks that are likely to disrupt your viewing.
Aside from two trailers, English and French, for the main feature there is nothing else to be found on this DVD release.
I loved every second of this film. The performances are without a doubt spectacular. The story is great and perfectly executed leaving very little for criticism. The DVD is once again a disappointing New Yorker affair as the print is most definitely being copied off the French PAL master (without the necessary adjustments). Had this been a properly flagged presentation with some substantial extras I would have given the R1 DVD a very high mark. As it is I am only going to recommended it based on the fact that there isn't a single English-friendly disc out there and this R1 release is the only chance for you to see this magnificent production. RECOMMENDED.