French director Jean-Jacques Beineix's eloquent drama IP5 takes its time revealing layers of characterization and detail, all at a leisurely pace. The payoff is worth it, however, and the luxurious, thoughtful ride along the way is quite rewarding.
The film involves the unlikely comradeship of three people, thrown together by circumstance. Tony (Olivier Martinez) is a Parisian graffiti artist in his teens, who has befriended young rapper Jockey (Sekkou Sall). Through a series of odd misadventures, Tony is forced by a group of skinheads to deliver a consignment of concrete dwarfs in another city. He brings Jockey along for company. Since he has recently become smitten with comely young nurse Gloria (Geraldine Pailhas), Tony decides midway through the trip to abandon the dwarf delivery and head to Toulouse, where Gloria has told him she'll be. (It is entirely possible that she won't. She has thus far rebuffed Tony's amorous advances, and is likely lying about her whereabouts.)
Tony and Jockey are, shall we say, less than law abiding citizens. In fact, they get through life mostly on theft and casual deceit. When a man steps out of his car on the highway to relieve himself, the two young rascals seize the advantage and steal his car. In the back seat, much to their surprise, is Leon, played by accomplished French actor Yves Montand. Of course, their first instinct is to throw him out on his ear but, caught in the ineluctable web of fate, they soon are accompanying him on foot across the French countryside. Leon, who at times appears to be something more than human (he may or may not be able to walk on water and heal injuries with a touch), is searching for the Island of the Pachyderms, which is situated on the lake where he met his first love, many years before. Why exactly he is searching for the island and lake is not entirely clear at first. It might be to recapture the lost innocence of youth, now that he is near his own death. It might even be to exact a convoluted revenge on the young woman who didn't love him enough to follow him home half a century before. Regardless, Leon is intent on finding the island, and his lost love, before he breathes his last.
As Tony and Jockey follow the old man on a physical journey through the countryside, and then to the home town of his lost love, and finally on to a Toulouse hospital, they also take a spiritual journey, waking up to the idea that there may possibly be things in the world more important than the immediate gratification of whatever passing desire skitter across their consciousness. They don't go willingly, but Leon's calm grace, and sense of wonder at the world, pulls them along the path almost without their knowing it.
The film meanders a bit, and takes its time getting to the point, but it is not a senseless, or unpleasant trip. The photography is stunningly beautiful. The lush scenery of rural France wraps around the three protagonists like a blanket, echoing the joy and comfort that Leon feels in the forests he walks through. The performances are all exemplary. One would expect that from a veteran like Yves Montand, but it is quite refreshing from the very young Sekkou Sall. Beineix weaves the story together deftly, allowing the characters to develop naturally. There are no head scratching moments that leave the viewer wondering why someone is acting inexplicably. We accept these people because, even when they act with outlandish abandon or bitter cruelty, we understand why they are acting this way. The transformation of Tony and Jockey from self centered sociopaths to people of real compassion is quite affecting, particularly as they never betray the core of who they are. There are no false notes or character beats to be seen here.
Partly a road movie, partly a love story, even partly a story of vengeance attempted and failed, IP5 is hard to describe, but easy to enjoy. It's deliberate pace and focus on characterization over plot will turn off those looking for thrills and chills. For those with a little patience and a taste for subtlety, it will be quite satisfying. Recommended.
Jean-Jacques Beineix with Tim Rhys of Moviemaker Magazine