Frédi is a broken man. We think we know why as we watch him pull over into a trailer park on a bike in his battered old leather jacket and pick up a couple of beers from the fridge to share with an older man. But the pleasure in François Dupeyron's urgent, constantly shifting drama is to find there are more, different, reasons for Frédi's despondency, and to actually see him glue back together the broken pieces as he comes to terms with the unusual circumstances of his life.
As portrayed with a winning generosity and heart by the great French actor Grégory Gadebois, Frédi is a sensitive, big-hearted giant whose touchy relationship with his ex-wife and irregular epileptic seizures conspire to keep his head down. He lives in a trailer park outside a coastal French town, near his drinking buddies and his laid-off father (the great Jean-Pierre Darroussin), downing beers at a fast rate, occasionally going out for casual sex with a local prostitute and still smarting from the recent death of his mother. Mr. Dupeyron had been attempting to set up this adaptation of his own 2009 novel for years without success, until he finally shot it with a reduced budget in a freeform, handheld style; while he maintains his film solidly anchored on a working-class reality that reminds me of the Marseille filmmaker Robert Guédiguian, he injects just the right amount of mystery and supernatural to add an intriguing overlay to his story.
Frédi's late mother has handed him down a "gift", that of healing by touch, coupled with a sensitivity, an "aura" if you'd like, that allows him to diagnose the actual reason for the ailments. Reluctant at first to exercise his gifts, unable to deal head-on with the misery and despair of those who come to him as a last resort, Frédi eventually realises, after a devastating accident, that his only way out is to embrace things head-on instead of refusing them - a metaphor for engaging with the world, for making the most of your life, that leads him to cross paths with the alcoholic wreck that is Nina (Céline Sallette). In her the kind giant recognises a kindred spirit, someone who hides from the real world for fear of not being strong enough to deal with it, in a standard trope of the French relationship drama that Mr. Dupeyron happily tears apart through his focus on the moment and the urgency, on the individual scenes and on the relationship between the characters.
The introduction of Frédi's mystical powers and the director's focus on long, intimate takes that never feel obtrusive bring a suggestion of Bruno Dumont's demanding opaqueness (and that merely underlines how Mr. Dupeyron, throughout his idiossyncratic career, has never really managed to create a filmmaking, auteurist identity). But at the same time, Mon âme par toi guérie wears its heart on its sleeve with such transparency and honesty, and is so generous with what it gives to and receives from its cast, that all the obvious traps such a film might find itself mired in are somehow magically avoided. Part of it is the forcefulness of Mr. Dupeyron's handling, tracing a conservative narrative arc through focusing on all the off-beats of the plot, part of it is the magnificent performances of a cast that runs with the hurt and joy of these characters as if they were born to play them, led by the regal Mr. Gadebois in one of those performances that make you want to stand up and cheer. This is by no means a perfect film - slightly overlong, occasionally redundant, skirting gaucheness through its overbearing honesty - but that only makes it a more endearing, fascinating piece of work.
MON ÂME PAR TOI GUÉRIE
Cast Grégory Gadebois, Céline Sallette, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Marie Payen, Philippe Rebbot, Stéphan Wojtowicz
Director and screenwriter François Dupeyron; based on the novel by Mr. Dupeyron Chacun pour soi, Dieu s'en fout; cinematographer Yves Angelo (colour, widescreen); music Nina Hagen, Roman Reg, Jean-Christophe Dorado aka Vanupié and The Swingsons; designer Bernard Bridon; costumes Catherine Bouchard; editor Dominique Faysse; producer Paulo Branco; production companies Alfama Films in co-production with Kinology
Screened June 19th 2014, Medeia Monumental 1, Lisbon (distributor press screening)