Pascal Elbé, an actor who has already left an indelible mark on French
cinema, makes his directing debut with this slick urban thriller which
tackles head-on some of the most pressing social issues in France
today: violence in the inner cities and teenage disaffection.
Elbé takes as his starting point the real-life story of a gang
of youths who set fire to a Marseille bus in 2006 and showed no remorse
for their act which resulted in a student being burnt alive. Are
today's disenfranchised youngsters susceptible to the workings of
conscience or have they become so alienated, so lacking in compassion,
that they are incapable of feeling for others? - this is question that
Elbé invites us to ponder in this bleak urban drama.
Tête de turc
snatches the spectator's attention with a frenetic opening depicting a
violent skirmish between youths and police. It is a sight that
has become all too familiar over the past few years and this particular
tussle ends with an innocent being caught in the crossfire. A
doctor (played by Elbé) narrowly escapes being killed and is
saved only when the lowlife who attacked him has a temporary crisis of
conscience. Guilt and recrimination drive what ensues, with the
crippled doctor's brother (a cop played by Elbé's friend Roschdy
Zem) intent on seeing that justice is done.
The first half of the film can hardly fail to impress - an intense
character-driven drama in which the protagonists' motivations are
apparent and the underlying social issues tackled with the sensitivity
and seriousness they deserve. Sadly, Elbé is unable to
sustain this level of excellence into the film's second half, which
ends up as a fairly routine thriller, relying on unconvincing plot
contrivances to keep it chugging along. A secondary story strand
involving a widower intent on revenge against the doctor for failing to
save his wife's life is clumsily grafted onto the plot and guides the
film towards its all-too predictable conclusion. Rather than
delving more deeply into the three main characters (the doctor, the cop
and the conscience-stricken youth) and developing a more plausible
drama from their inner conflicts, Elbé broadens the narrative
and loses focus, so that his characters become even more impenetrable
as the story unravels.
The failure to prevent his film from slipping into well-worn tracks is
the only area where Elbé disappoints. His direction is
imaginative and daring, with more than a touch of Sam Peckinpah
chutzpah about it whilst bringing out the best in the performances from
the three impeccable leads. Samir Makhlouf impresses in his first
screen role as the conficted teenager, whilst old hands Roschdy Zem and
Pascal Elbé are up to their usual high standard, making up for
the occasional weaknesses in the script. Judging by this
promising debut, Tête de turc
could be the start of a whole new career for Elbé.
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