AFM Public Screening Offers French Comedic Gem: Diane Kurys' "L'Anniversaire"

"L'Anniversaire (The  Birthday)," directed by Diane Kurys, is best described as a modern-day French version of 'The Big Chill.'  It is a film about a successful television executive who has made his fortune in reality TV.  Raphael is so dazzlingly successful that his company can afford to build a stunning villa in Marrakech when the 'perfect' set is not available for shooting his new show (humorously subtitled as 'The Bachelor').  He can fly in his private jet anywhere he pleases, and he wears a beautiful new blue dress shirt every day of his pampered life.   The last detail is most important for female viewers since the lead, played by Lambert Wilson, is gorgeous beyond compare.  With a lean body and chiseled face enhanced by smart-looking glasses, he seems obviously brilliant while also being stunning to look at, and blue- how shall we say- is definitely in his color palette.

The cast gathered for publicity photo

The story is described as a comedy, but there are also themes of redemption and reconciliation a la 'Chill.'  The setting, however, is rather unlike that big house wherein the former group was sequestered.  Here we are transported to Marrakech along with the seven friends brought to celebrate Raphael's 45th birthday.  The audience is brought into a colorful street crowd in that ancient city, out into the desert on the back of a camel, into the giant pool and onto the luxurious patio of Raphael's TV set-quality villa, and then crowded around elegant dining tables filled with sumptuous food and wine. 

We know that a weekend of heavy-duty partying is in store for eveyone once we see Raphael tucking a plastic bag into his jacket pocket and hearing a companion declare with surprise and delight, "It will take you a month to smoke all that hash!"

The group start to relax- and the conflict begins as they are no longer on their "best behavior"

Yes, it's both the elegance and the decadence of the places and people that are memorable.  The humanness, however, also shines through.  Along with hosting long-lost friends, Raphael must also come to terms with seeing his brother for the first time in some fourteen years.  Said brother has covertly written an expose' about Raphael's and the group's activities in the 60's while involved with public radio (think a lot of dissension and pot smoking.)

Each character grapples with his/her own personal difficulties and unfinished emotional business with the others during this supposedly celebratory weekend.  We see Raphael's ex-love, Gabriella, injecting herself and then having sex with Raphael's brother and keeping her legs up on the wall to aid in conception.  She's trying to have a baby.  We see Raphael's ex-wife, Elisabeth, in a heated phone conversation with her promising 'new, young' director.   She's seeking to revive her career.  Ex-wife's new husband has a dream to turn his holdings of mangoes into money in the form of a new health spa concept.  He's looking for financing.  Two other mis-matched friends come seeking nothing on a conscious level, but they find each other and come to understand their desire for a mate.  As to Raphael's brother, the author, he comes seeking something very different. He intends to surprise his brother with his provocative version of a birthday 'gift,' but, instead, brings along a gift of another kind that creates a turning point in Raphael's life. 

Raphael (Lambert Wilson) and Elisabeth (Michele Laroque) share a rare private moment to review their failed marriage

Locations are nicely chosen, and a score filled with songs from the 80's draws the audience in to the time period.  Casting was done well, and we are not disappointed with the beauty of the supporting characters, either, as all are equally easy on the eyes, including even the role of Raphael's 'aging actress' ex-wife played wonderfully by Michele Larogue.  Despite her woes about having given up her career for Raphael's children, she is, in no way, an old nag.  Her toned form and beautiful complexion are great even in close-ups.  Her poutiness throughout the film due to having to endure the company of both her ex-husband's first love and his current play-toy/secretary is delightful.

A camel ride across the desert, one of the group's activites on Raphael's birthday "weekend"

This is film for an adult audience since it contains the usual French ease about sex and relationships.  Good humor is sprinkled evenly throughout the film, and a memorable scene takes place where ex-wife encounters Raphael in a rose-petal-covered bath with his secretary and, instead of discretely leaving, stays around long enough to attempt to 'one-up' the (very) young woman.  Dialogue is wry when it might have been bawdy, and this is appreciated.

We enjoy that these seemingly mis-matched guests start out with the proper goal of celebrating their host's big day, but enjoy it even more when their behavior begins to deteriorate as their time together, unavoidably, uncovers old wounds.  Their antics are memorable (whining about their host's absence upon their arrival, failing to appreciate the bounty of food provided, drunkenly dipping into the pool in their evening attire) and their reconciliations are both laudable and surprising.

Director Diane Kurys began her career as an actress and, in 1977, and she was launched with 'Mint and Lemonade,' a semi-autobiographical account of adolescence.  The film gained public acclaim and garnered the Louis Delluc Prize.  In another film, 'Fifties with Thunderbolt,' she received notoriety for telling a story of a lesbian relationship. 

Kurys' talent for exploring the boundaries of relationship is well apparent in  'L'Anniversaire."  Transporting as well as thought-provoking, this is an entertaining film for adults that leaves one feeling good about life, family and the endurance of friendship.


Lambert Wilson as RaphaÃ-l
Michele Laroque as Elisabeth
Jean-Hugues Anglade as Alberto
Pierre Palmade as Jacques
Antoine Dulery as Charlie
Isabella Ferrari as Gabriella

 Images courtesy of Scoops

Text copyright 2005 M. D. Caprario

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