Games Of Love And Chance (l'esquive)

on August 31, 2005 by Jordan Reed
Set up like some weird adolescent soap opera, Abdellatif Kechiche's "Games of Love and Chance" takes place in a working-class Parisian suburb, where a crew of high-schoolers talk tough, smoke cigarettes and... act in plays? Um, okay. It's here that Kechiche's lethargic protagonist Krimo (Osman Elkharraz) tries to win the heart of his beloved Lydia (Sara Forestier) by taking over the leading male role in a school production. But with Krimo's feisty ex, Magalie (Aurelie Ganito), still in the picture -- not to mention his abysmal acting ability -- Lydia can't decide whether or not to accept his invitation to date. Meanwhile, Krimo's best buddy Fathi (Hafet Ben-Ahmed) is getting awfully tired of the ensuing drama, and in his own oafishly aggressive way takes it upon himself to force all parties to sort out the mess.

"Games of Love and Chance" plays like a French version of Jim McKay's "Our Song," and occasionally achieves that film's surreptitious capturing of teenage social mores and mindset. But, unlike McKay's superior American version, Kechiche is unable to transform the everyday lives of his characters into something meaningful. His take feels flat, its offhand multiculturalism and kids-are-alright attitude not fully developed and its ambiguousness coming off more as laziness than purposeful ennui.

Part of the problem lies with his main character. Zombie-like in his passivity, Krimo inspires little empathy despite his underprivileged background and familial strife. Nor do we learn anything substantial about him, other than the fact that his father is in prison and that he owns a pair of nunchakus. Kechiche lets numerous scenes go on for too long, deflating conflict by provoking restlessness, and the film's subtitles are annoyingly written in an attempt to street-ify the dialogue. And in his most mystifying misstep, the director stages a police brutality scene -- call it "Les Hommes dans le Hood" -- that he proceeds to drop completely, opting to make all consequence and repercussion disappear, never to be resolved. Starring Osman Elkharraz, Sara Forestier and Hafet Ben-Ahmed. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Written by Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalya Lacroix. Produced by Jacques Ouaniche. A New Yorker release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 119 min

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