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Cannes 2011. Alain Cavalier's "Pater"

David Hudson


"It happens every year: at least one film from France is in competition that the domestic audience seems to adore but which leaves us foreign journalists, almost without exception, utterly nonplussed as to why it was selected." Sight & Sound editor Nick James: "This year's puzzle is Pater (France), the latest relaxed, personal, made-at-home film from the usually estimable Alain Cavalier."

"There is one fascinating, appalling non-cinema subject that people have been talking about endlessly," notes the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw from Cannes. "The line taken generally is that Strauss-Kahn is innocent until proven guilty, but also an uneasy sense that this sort of legal sensation could never have happened in France, where attitudes to sexual politics and powerful men are quite different. The case gave an interesting flavor to Alain Cavalier's Pater, which satirizes the patriarchal system of political power, and power generally, in France. The film… is a stripped-down, low-budget two-hander, shot on high-definition video — the sort of piece that might work as well, or better, as a stage play. Cavalier plays a version of himself, starting work on a movie in which he will play the president of the republic. Rugged French star Vincent Lindon also plays a version of himself, getting ready to play a politician who will be prime minister. The two men have a close, almost father-son bond: their bantering conversations sketch out both their fictional and actual relationships…. It is a very verbose film — yet with interesting things to say. These men, with their distinguished white or receding hair and their expensive dark suits, are the law in France. Perhaps they and their self-satisfied sort are the law all over the world. They are endlessly tolerant of each other's peccadillos; they are addicted to their own importance; and they adore promoting the spectacle of this importance."

"Although far-fetched and highly complex on paper, the merry hypothesis unfolds simply and with such a spirit of freedom that we often don't know when the two scoundrels are acting or being themselves," writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa. "Fascinating, disconcerting, sometimes irritating and often funny, Pater adds to Cavalier's thoughts on creativity, and is also an opportunity to convey a political message on the need for better distribution of wealth. The president and his new prime minister seek 'to wake everyone up a little' with a law that would regulate the gap between the lowest and highest salaries in the country. This gap is currently 1/50, and our two pretend politicians want to set it at 1/10 or 1/15." The "constant to and fros between the 'backstage' and 'onstage,' whilst intellectually stimulating and entertaining, do not however have the same emotional power as Irène, and are only a partially successful experiment in terms of rhythm. This, however, takes nothing away from the great talent of Cavalier the experimenter and his excellent partner Lindon."

"In recent work — including 2009's superb memoir Irène, about a former partner — Cavalier has used video and strictly restricted resources to create intimate, highly crafted, seemingly off-the-cuff personal essays that are the very definition of the 100% authored cinema dreamed of by the precursors of the Nouvelle Vague." Jonathan Romney for Screen: "Occasionally droll and engaging, this often opaque venture ultimately disappears up its own meta-cinematic derrière, and is unlikely to appeal outside a hardcore coterie of Francophile lovers of experiment."

"The epitome of an in-joke, best appreciated by director Alain Cavalier and his slender cast, Pater is a confounding slog for most anyone else," finds Rob Nelson in Variety. "Lingering shots of wine bottles and moist truffles on a plate accentuate the feeling of a private party, one to which only the director's inner circle and least discriminating fans have been invited."


"Paradox and contradiction become supporting characters in this pretentious landslide of irony," grumbles Glenn Heath Jr at the House Next Door. "The endless improvisation between the actors has a few funny moments, but most of the critical zingers seem prepared for the home crowd. The mainly French audience lapped this rubbish up. And what is it with filmmakers shooting self-aware films like this on the worst possible DV camera available? (Kim Ki-duk please stand up!) Is blown-out lighting and bleached yellows a new cinematic fashion trend? Despite the amateurish look, the self-congratulation on display is truly amazing."

Current Micropsia average: 5.775 out of 10.

Updates: "Though both Cavalier and Lindon mention their fathers, the Pater of the title seems to refer to a political dynasty that just goes on and on, whoever wins the elections," supposes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "At the same time the film reveals a great deal about its protags — a slice of life that particularly reflects Cavalier's own refined lifestyle and wicked sense of humor. Lindon is a hoot in a long monolog about his landlord, while Cavalier riffs on soft silk ties and Ines de la Fressange. One either likes these characters or finds them unbearably self-indulgent, but in any case the film is beautifully shot and paced with only a few loungers."

"There are a few astute observations along the route to the film's wholly underwhelming conclusion, but after about half an hour or so it all turns a little smug and inconsequential, rather like an in-joke," finds Geoff Andrew in Time Out London.

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