Told from the point of view of an 11-year-old boy (the Charlie of the title, played by Ferdinand Martin) and set in an unnamed and out-of-season coastal city that looks very like Caen, Garcia's film plays around with its men, who include Benoit Magimel as an anthropologist who becomes an introspective schoolteacher; Patrick Pineau as a famous scientist and Patrick's former mentor; Vincent Lindon as Charlie's serially adulterous father; an inept burglar played by Benoit Poelvoorde; and a wayward mayor embodied by the acerbic Jean-Pierre Bacri.
All the characters seems to suffer from a fear of abandonment and loneliness as they make their way in the world -- or don't, as the case may be. Garcia seems to underline this preoccupation with a reference to Dirk -- a prehistoric man whose remains are discovered 180 miles from his home, leaving all kinds of questions unanswered about why he left.
The same goes for the film, which seems to run around in ever-decreasing circles. That's not to say the experience is devoid of enjoyable interludes along the way. With a Gallic cast of this caliber, it would be difficult not to find some pleasures. The whole, though, seems unnecessarily complex and irritatingly dense. If this is the whirling microscopic world that befalls grown-ups, no wonder Charlie looks so bemused for most of the time. The narrative unfurls over three days -- and often it feels like it's real time. Starring Sophie Cattani, Jean Pierre Bacri, Vincent Lindon, Benoit Magimel, Benoit Poelvoorde, Patrick Pineau, Ferdinand Martin, Arnaud Valois and Minna Haapkyla. Directed by Nicole Garcia. Written by Nicole Garcia and Jacques Fieschi. Produced by Alain Attal. No distributor set. Dramatic comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 130 min