A comedy of absurdity with a 6 star cast which makes you laugh with what it says and moves you with what it silences.
One should not underestimate the importance of the title of a movie. It often charges without any proof of guilt. No,Macadam Stories is not a french ersatz of Fast and Furious but a beautiful movie in which you learn how to communicate (again) with others. And it feels great.
Asphalte is first and foremost a comedy on absurdity, which is set almost entirely in a project housing building. This will be the theatre of improbable meetings between characters that have nothing in common but their fragility.
The comedy driver is powered by the difficulty of characters to communicate either due to extreme timidity, inter-generational gap or even just because they speak different languages. You observe with delight the meeting of two awkwardly timid neighbours making small talk while trying to hide that they are attracted to each other (the couple played by Gustave Kervern and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi), or a lonely teenager (Jules Benchetrit) talk to his new neighbour, a retired and has been actress (Isabelle Huppert), like he would to schoolmates. But the award goes to the incredibly absurd meeting between a American astronaut who has just landed on the roof of the building and Madame Hamida, PhD in Couscous and who is not really able to speak English.
The movie succeeds in inoculating us with a perfect dose of melancholia and poetry. The characters, at first sad and alone, open up slowly as the movie progresses and enable us to see what they are looking for in their counterpart. Each “couple” ultimately finds a way to communicate, and if not through speech then through a look, a gesture or a smile do, we understand that the communication is established.
A good character only exists if you have a good actor. And on that point, the casting is perfect. It’s hard to pinpoint who is the best actor in the group but the presence of Michael Pitt (Last Days, Funny Games US), portraying the American astronaut, is surely unexpected. The hilarious duo he forms with Mandi Tassadit who plays Madame Hamida is a reason in itself to watch the movie. All of the actors are excellent both in the comic register due to their perfect sense of tempo as well as in dramatic register where their silence says much more than their dialogues.
The director, Samuel Benchetrit, also deserves a perfect A. After a couple of mediocre movies (Chez Gino and Un voyage), he bounces back in grand fashion. In the footsteps of Xavier Dolan or Wes Anderson, the movie is shot in 4:3. The use of travelling shots as well as the geometry of each shot, with characters either face or profile to the camera, perfectly matching the geometry of the building, is a reminder of the influence of these filmmakers. Finally, the 4:3 reinforces the idea of a box or a cell in which the characters are trapped both physically and emotionally.
Finally, the soundtrack is not preponderant but helps to enhance the emotions felt by the spectator. The musician Raphael is behind these surprisingly cute melodies. Which makes this movie really unusual.
image source: Lions Gate Film