on January 29, 2003 by Ed Scheid
   Even moreso than in many French films, "Chaos" mixes different genres. Female bonding and consciousness-raising are combined with a violent crime drama, a realistic examination of Islamic oppression of women, a fantasy of financial manipulation, and an incisive look at a modern family.

   Paul ("Vendredi Soir's" Vincent Lindon) and his wife Helene ("The Dinner Game's" Catherine Frot) witness a young woman being beaten and left for dead. Paul avoids all involvement and is more concerned with cleaning blood from his windshield than the condition of the unconscious woman. Feeling guilty at their indifference, Helene traces the victim to the hospital ward where she lies in a coma. Helene becomes obsessed with helping to nurse the woman back to health, neglecting the husband and son who have disillusioned her. As the woman regains consciousness, Helene discovers that she is Malika (Rachida Brakni), the daughter of North African Islamic immigrants. Fleeing an arranged marriage to a much older man, Malika was forced into prostitution. Malika's life is still in danger from her former associates. Helene joins with her dispirited mother-in-law (Line Renaud) to shield Malika.

   With eyes full of fierce intensity, Brakni gives an impassioned performance. She received a Cesar, the French Oscar, for most promising female. Frot, nominated for the Cesar for Best Actress, skillfully shows Helene's growing self-awareness and her determination to save Malika.

   Director/writer Coline Serreau ("Three Men and a Cradle") maintains a vigorous pace through the changes in tone that range from the grim examination of Malika's family background to the comedic revenge she takes on Helene's husband and son for the neglect of their female relatives. The style of the film reflects the chaotic disarray of lives changed by a random event. The only false note is the implausible sequence where Malika secretly amasses a fortune that she hides from her tormentors. Otherwise, the talented cast keeps "Chaos" (Cesar-nominated for Best Film) absorbing throughout its different directions. Starring Catherine Frot, Vincent Lindon, Rachida Brakni, Line Renaud. Directed and Written by Coline Serreau. Produced by Alain Sarde. A New Yorker release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 112 min

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