May 26, 2014

Review: Karnaval (1999)

Carnival is a festival that occurs annually in France right before Lent, probably to get in a couple of nights of debauchery before buckling down. The scenes that are depicted in Karnaval easily rival the kinds of carnivals you'd see in Rio de Janeiro if you ask me. I'd honestly like to know if this movie was filmed during an actual Carnival in Dunkirk or actual Carnival scenes were staged because I can't find any info regarding where or when it was filmed. The Carnival scenes look incredibly real and well put together regardless.

Karnaval is a French romantic drama which I guess would make it easy to toss in with other French love triangle films. Director Thomas Vincent has taken a familiar formula but it works well and benefits from some good acting. This is especially true for Sylvie Testud who's as reliable as ever. It's hard not to get sucked into the whole Carnival-party mindset and what you get is something differentiated as far as love-triangle films go.


Genre: drama
Directed by: Thomas Vincent
Produced by: Alain Rozanès, Pascal Verroust
Written by: Maxime Sassier, Thomas Vincent
Music by: Krishna Levy
Running time: 88 minutes
Production company: ADR Productions, Les Films du Bois Sacré, Radio Télévision Belge Francophone, etc.
Distributed by: MK2 Diffusion, Mongrel Media
Country: France
Language: French
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry

Starring: Sylvie Testud, Amar Ben Abdallah, Clovis Cornillac, Martine Godart, Jean-Paul Rouve, Thierry Bertein, Dominique Baeyens, Hervé Pierre, Malek Kateb, Karim Attia, Manon Seys



The story introduces us to Larbi (Amar Ben Abdallah) who is a Muslim mechanic living in Dunkirk. He has a bit of a falling out with his family and finds himself in the streets. He happens to run into Béa (Sylvie Testud) who is accompanied by her drunk husband Christian (Clovis Cornillac) who are all decked out from a night at Carnival. He becomes enamoured with her which of course draws the ire of Christian.


Thomas Vincent has made a very down-to-earth romance film with Karnaval. It feels very real and is very different from the kind of romance you'd see in a typical Hollywood movie. There's no score trying to make you feel a certain way and the crisis that emerges isn't forced either. The colourful festival scenes would have you think that this is a lighthearted movie but in fact it isn't, so beware.

Larbi is an interesting character in how obsessed he becomes with Béa. He has to deal with the stereotypes of being a Muslim living in France and trying to desperately get through to Béa. I mean the woman is married with a young girl, so the stuff he's pulling is pretty bold. Not to mention that her husband Christian is a guy who can become violently angry on the turn of a dime.

The costumes are amusing in the sense that we're seeing men dressed up like ladies with dresses, skirts, fur coats, hats and layers of makeup. Carnival definitely seems like a fun party if you enjoy getting super drunk while singing lewd songs all night. The Carnival scenes where there are masses of people are well filmed and give a great look at the number of people involved.

The feelings between the three main characters? I buy them. Karnaval never strays away from real emotion which is very welcome. This is real life and it's too bad that this is Thomas Vincent's only directorial effort. Where did this guy come from and where did he go? Karnaval ended up winning the Alfred Bauer Prize at the 49th Berlin International Film Festival and Vincent deserved it. It's too bad he's not still making films.

Getting away from the formulaic love triangle story isn't easy but Karnaval pulls it off. Sylvie Testud is the real gem in this picture and she's surrounded by a capable cast. Again, I don't know if the Dunkirk Carnival scenes were filmed in the actual Carnival or one that was staged. Either way it was well done and entertaining to watch these particular scenes.



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