Petits Freres

on May 18, 2001 by Francesca Dinglasan
   In "Petits Freres," French director Jacques Doillon ("Ponette") once again tackles the subject of adolescence and the trials and tribulations associated with that particularly messy time in life, to heartfelt--but somewhat inadequate--results. Centering on a troubled 13-year-old girl and the unlikely bond she forms with a group of boys living in the projects, the film maintains an uncanny documentary-style realism, which is lamentably interrupted from time-to-time by standard onscreen cliches about gang life and societal woes.

   After fighting with her unsavory stepfather, Talia (Stephanie Touly) runs away from home with her beloved and faithful pitbull Kim in-tow. She heads to Patin, a suburb on the outskirts of Paris populated by poor Arabs and blacks. While wandering around, she meets Ilies (Ilies Sefraoui), Mous (Mustapha Goumane), Nassim (Nassim Izem) and Rachid (Rachid Mansouri), four buddies who take her into their fold. Their motives, though, aren't so pure: With the intent of making money off of Kim by putting her to use in dogfights, the boys steal the friendly dog while Talia sleeps at Mous and his older brother Dembo's (Dembo Goumane) apartment. The boys and their street hardness, however, begin to soften toward Talia, who herself has earned the nickname "Tyson" after the boxer for her tough-talking ways, and a sincere friendship begins to develop among them. The dilemma for the boys--especially Ilies, who has developed romantic feelings for Talia--becomes what to tell her about her dog, who she is desperate to find.

   Helmer Doillon is adept at the films d'enfance genre, and "Petits Freres" again displays his keen insight into the minds and motives of youths. The film's five central characters, buoyed by solid performances by the young actors and actress, are credible and always three-dimensional, compelling viewers to sympathize with the group of friends, even if they don't necessarily deserve approval. Unfortunately, the film also has a tendency, it seems, to try to capture too much reality, resulting in an oversaturation of social issues being introduced: Ilies mentions the difficulty of his possible romance with Talia (he's Arab, she's Jewish), Mous beats his younger sisters, Talia suspects her stepfather of sexually molesting her younger sister--and so on. Though the proliferation of societal issues are not overwhelming enough to erase the effect of the film's engaging story about loyalty and friendship, "Petits Freres'" tries to cover too many very serious topics in too short a time.    Starring Stephanie Touly, Ilies Sefraoui, Mustapha Goumane, Nassim Izem, Rachid Mansouri and Dembo Goumane. Directed and written by Jacques Doillon. Produced by Marin Karmitz. A First Run Features release. Drama. French-language; subtitled. Unrated. Running time: 92 min.

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