In the Beginning

2009 [FRENCH]

Drama

0
IMDb Rating 7.1 10 2373

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Synopsis


Uploaded By: FREEMAN

Cast

François Cluzet as Philippe Miller / Paul
Soko as Monika

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by Siamois 9 / 10

A crook brings hope...

Paul is a small-time crook, ripping off construction businesses by usurping identities and reselling equipment he acquires. His travels bring him to a small town where his false identity (Philippe Miller) brings hope that a stalled highway construction project will finally get underway and let the inhabitants get out of the financial crisis they are in.

Town folks and local companies are all too eager to trust this stranger who inadvertently brings hope and when they begin to talk numbers and even bribe him, Paul decides to seize this golden opportunity. At first, he is awkward in his Philippe Miller persona but quickly gains assurance.

This part of the story plays much like a false identity con, not unlike Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. But lately, French cinema has excelled in portraying work, economic and social issues and this film is no exception. The more "Philippe" stays in town, the more he gets to know the people in this town, their hopes, dreams and their problems.

And so, the line begins to blur between Paul and Philippe, especially as the project itself takes life. Of course, suspicion arises every so often about whether "Philippe" is really who he pretends to be but are always rapidly squashed, because "at least, things are happening".

What is fascinating is to see almost the whole town, in a certain way, complicit with Paul's scam-turning-into-good-deed. Even Paul himself forgets about the easy money and becomes obsessed with finishing the highway project. We as viewers can't help but wonder if the townsfolk couldn't have made it happen by themselves had they had common will to do so.

The movie becomes less and less about a heist and more and more about project management by a man way over his head. The direction by Xavier Giannoli is tight, evocative and right on target. The amazing score by the underrated Cliff Martinez is perfect and beautiful, immersing us in this story that is part drama, part thriller. The entire cast was well chosen and all are believable but this is very much a film following lead actor François Cluzet, one of France's best actor who keeps on getting better and better even in his 50s now. Cluzet oozes charisma and could lead any big production.

People who enjoy thrillers such as the aforementioned Catch Me If You Can or dramas such as Up In the Air should have a great time watching this great film that tells an amazing and original story inspired by true events that took place in the 90s.

Reviewed by Chris Knipp 9 / 10

A petty swindle becomes an economic bonanza and a little news item turns into a great film

In the Beginning/À l'origine is the story of a small time crook who falls into a big con and thereby becomes both a hero to the locals and a mensch in his own eyes. The con and the project are doomed, but both are sweet while they last.

This suspenseful and curiously moving film includes a virtuoso lead performance by François Cluzet, was in competition at Cannes, and received eleven nominations at the French César awards. Director Xavier Giannoli (of The Singer) has again made a picture that's a sensitive study both of in individual and of a region. He also succeeds, like Lucas Belvaux in Rapt, in turning a news story that might seem on the face of it rather trivial into psychological and philosophical thriller. It makes you think, it keeps you on the edge of your seat, and it shows once again that the French really know how to make movies.

Paul (Cluzet), who uses the fake name Philippe Miller, is a petty con man who travels all around France Xing off construction projects on his highway map of the country. Taking down names and phone numbers from roadside signs and making deft use of product catalogs, he steals and resells parts and equipment from suppliers by pretending to be a project manager.

Miller hits pay dirt, and ultimately gets in much deeper than he plans, when he comes upon a highway project abandoned two years earlier due to its invading the habitat of a protected beetle. Faking involvement with the parent company in the project, he collects money and starts it up again.

Miller meets the eager, energetic Monika (Stéphanie Sokolinski, the singer known as Soko), who works at his motel, and her fresh-faced, sensitive boyfriend Nicolas (Vincent Rottiers). Before long he also meets the local mayor, Stéphane (Emmanuelle Devos) and becomes her lover.

Miller gets a local bank to issue him checks and advance funds for payments to suppliers that demand immediate payment. The bank wants a piece of the action too. But they will require authentication that Miller can never provide.

As the project takes off, Cluzet, as Miller, at first seems to be imploding. When asked embarrassing questions, he has a dozen ways of deflecting them. If all else fails he just says he has another appointment and runs off. The situation is too tempting for Miller to resist. He knows he's getting in way over his head. But isn't it the nature of the con man to seek bigger and bigger deceptions? Actually nobody loses much here.

The whole thing that terrified Miller begins to delight him. For once he is somebody. "I have wasted a lot of time" is one of his saddest lines to Stéphane, in bed. Of course ultimately Miller is going to go to jail, but he starts desperately trying to get the segment of highway completed before the time limit on payments ends and many bills become due. He's now paying out in salaries to the workers all the many thousands he accumulated at the outset. The money doesn't matter to him any more. He becomes a worker himself, pushing a broom to spread the asphalt in the rain. It's winter and the project is becoming more and more difficult to finish.

In the Beginning is a nail-biter all the way through, and in the end you will react as the local community did to the real con man in this story: some of you will take him for a real S.O.B. Others will believe him to be a pretty nice guy. Environment and action create identity. We are what we do. Here, Miller is what he makes happen. Workers don't always care about the utility of their employment. They don't much care about beetles. (What happens to them is barely mentioned. In fact they were transplanted to a forest.)

Cluzet, an extremely busy and popular French actor most recently seen by American audiences in Guillaume Canet's Tell No One (another hit thriller), is a neutral Frank Capra everyman, an individual who can seem shut down, but with a twinkle in the eye, a grump with a jovial chap hiding inside waiting to be let out. The film gradually lets out that chap, and then, when the big corporation comes in and the police descend, the highway project lit up at night like a film set, Miller is a little man who's strangely triumphant in defeat, waving the battered flag of his fake company.

This is another marvelous French film that transcends genre, turning a crime thriller into celebration of work. Judging by this and Giannoli's The Singer/Quand j'étais chanteur, he has great sensitivity to solitary wanderers and paints rich psychological portraits in a complex social environment. He doesn't know so well how to end things. There is a little uncertainty whether we can take À l'origine as a mood piece about economic desperation (as Up in the Air partly is; but this is Down on the Ground), a process picture, or a crime thriller. But it achieves success in each genre, because of the energetic world the director creates, the rich moral ambiguity he preserves. The secondary characters are of course a bit schematic, a bit obvious, but with such actors, they never seem that way. Like Laurent Cantet's study of a strike and of class conflict within a family, Human Resources, In the Beginning is about the human need to be doing work.

An official entry at Cannes 2009 as mentioned with 11 César nominations, À l'origine opened in Paris November 11, 2009 to very, very good reviews; more than one calls it "a great film." Shown as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema co-sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance and screened at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center in New York in March 2010.

Reviewed by Felix-28 8 / 10

Good but too long

This is a peculiar film. It's said to be based on a true story, but I can't find any details of the true story after a search (which I admit was short) on the net. Other reviews tell the story, so I won't repeat it. It's compelling to watch, but at the same time painful to watch, because while you're watching a group of characters and coming to like them more and more, you know it must all end in tragedy.

François Cluzet is excellent as the con-man who gets vastly out of his depth and flails about ever more frantically to keep his head above water. Emmanuelle Devos is at her most striking and most vulnerable; the more I see of her the more magnificent I think she is. It's a pity she's not a little better at choosing her roles; some of the films she's been in have been shockers. There are also very nice turns from Gérard Depardieu as a very tough, seasoned crim, and Soko and Vincent Rottiers as a struggling young couple.

The film is too long by about 30 minutes. The Hollywood vice of prolixity seems to be affecting the French now. It's 130 minutes long; the version shown at Cannes was 155 and must have been excruciating. There are too many scenes that are prolonged to the point of tedium, and there's a section just after half way through where the story progresses very little which could have been cut entirely. It would have been a much better film if it had been a bit tighter.

I still give it 8. The power of the story and the quality of the performances and the direction make it worth that.

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