Last we saw French director Robert Guédiguian, he was following the dissolution of a working-class friendship of former leftist activists in the disappointing polar Lady Jane. The director has become known for his recurring focus on the working-class streets of Marseilles, his repertory company of actors and technicians based out of that port city underscoring his belief in an old-fashioned communal utopia of class solidarity and common-sensed decency. For The Snows of Kilimanjaro, however, Mr. Guédiguian takes precisely that belief as its starting point and makes it collide headfront with modern-day social tensions. The film tells of the rude awakening of laid-off unionist Michel (a wonderful Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his wife Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride), whose own belief in trade unionism and class solidarity is shaken to its core when a break-in robbery for their life savings turns out to have been the work of younger laid-off worker Christophe (a seething Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet), resentful of their comfortable bourgeois lifestyle now shut off to him.

     Mr. Guédiguian smartly questions the point of working-class honour when up against a broken social contract in a classicist, often leaden style; since the director has never been known as a stylist, the writing and performances are what usually carry the film, and it's the case here again. But there's in The Snows of Kilimanjaro a bitter taste of disenchantment, the realisation that something has indeed broken somewhere along the line as the belief in the power of the union and of the worker is no longer enough to ensure future generations will enjoy the same rights. When simple decency and common sense face headlong nihilism and desperation, when ideology collides with pragmatism, things are bound to shatter and what is timely and moving in the film is precisely the way its cast (combining Guédiguian regulars and some new additions) makes that existential awakening visible and understandable.

     While still visually non-descript, The Snows of Kilimanjaro never stoops to caricatural characterisations and is smart in its refusal to countenance an easy way out - whether ideological or pragmatic - of the dilemmas Michel and Marie-Claire are facing. That is perfectly crystallised in a wonderful bar scene where an observant bartender (Pierre Niney) asks Marie-Claire what is wrong and she answers "Life. It's life."

Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan, Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet, Maryline Canto, Anaïs Demoustier, Adrien Jolivet, Robinson Stévenin, Karole Rocher, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Pierre Niney, Yann Loubatière, Jean-Baptiste Fonck, Émilie Piponnier, Raphaël Hidrot, Anthony Decadi, Jeanine Gevaudan, Frédérique Bonnal.
     Director, Robert Guédiguian; screenplay, Jean-Louis Milesi, Mr. Guédiguian, inspired by the poem Les Pauvres gens by Victor-Hugo; cinematography, Pierre Milon (colour); designer, Michel Vandestien; costumes, Juliette Chanand; editor, Bernard Sasia; production, Agat Films & Cie, France 3 Cinéma, La Friche Belle de Mai, France, 2011, 107 minutes.
     Screened: DVD, Lisbon, May 19th 2012. 

LES NEIGES DU KILIMANDJARO- Bande-annonce por diaphana


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