Utopia by any other name…


on December 20, 2010 by Matthew Nestel

Angela Christlieb's offers fuel for the imagination with her docu-fantasy, Urville. A comparative study of many different hamlets all called Urville, this quirky feature challenges conventional wisdom about utopia and what such a thing could look like. But after touring three different hamlets bearing identical names and nonsensical stats (no crime, no indigent-only happiness) it all feels sublime and a bit uncanny. Still, plenty of spectators will swoon at the clever play with fiction and reality.

Christlieb drifts from urban landscape to bucolic podunk, each of them named Urville. The filmmaker flattens these landscapes. Instead of urban majesty, up props a camera straddling a horse's rumps or a bull mounting a heifer along a French countryside. The myth of utopia gets a sobering fix by the fictitious French GPS voice dictating turns into green thickets and stops on barely beaten paths. Just one cow town after another passes and we're greeted by makeshift mayors posing next to makeshift Urville signs.

One mayor is a callous-palmed farmer. He's inept when it comes to adorning the red, white and blue sash for galas and big to-dos, but he's proud to enter the town's official buildings in cargo shorts and shows off his office closet, which doubles as a voting booth. His political rival's a real estate agent named François Grossi. Running on a nomadic agenda, Grossi calls a tepee home and carries on his affairs decked in full Indian Chief regalia. He wanders around town with his wife and a life-sized handshaking cardboard stand-up of former President Bill Clinton; he prefers to be recognized by his moniker ‘Lonesome Wolf.'

Champagne-based Urville harbors an urban legend that the natives are tipsy on life, not to mention the bubbly that supposedly flows through the tap. The mayor and her husband are an especially effervescent duo with all the millions of Euros they're sitting on in the form of cellared champagne bottles. They even pop open one that's as big as a St. Bernard. Afterward they wax on about all the loyal list of dignitary and celeb clientele.

The film splinters during its third Urville stop. The town's gentry makes its opening curtsy and then there's the peasant family. This Urville is led by a female mayor who shows off her pet rooster; she even keeps a posh nest for him in the guest shower. Beyond her comfortable lifestyle she fears for nuclear war and admits there's a stockpile of iodine pills rationed for the Urville youths should doomsday come. And carrying on nearby is a pig farming family who moonlight as Carnies. The parents and two daughters raise pigs and horses and goats when they aren't perfecting their act. Because of their peasant status they allege to be targets of prejudice by snotty neighbors. The mother prances around in a giraffe suit on her off-days.

As the film continues to veer into one Urville after the next the argument is made that even perfect domains are laden with imperfection. Intermittently, the narrator makes sales pitches on all the great attributes of Urville (rather, the Urville of the moment) while staggering numbers flash onscreen of some mega metropolis towering atop an island in plain view off the French Riviera's horizon; almost a heaven on earth in mirage form.

Flying Moon Filmverleih GbR
Albers & Behesht Nedjad
Seestraße 96
13353 Berlin
Tel.: +49/030/322 9718-13

Director: Angele Christlieb
Producers: Helge Albers, Roshanak Behesht Nedjad
Genre: Documentary/Drama
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 82 min
Release date: October 15 NY


Tags: Helge Albers, Roshanak Behesht Nedjad, Angele Christlieb

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