Monday, March 29, 2010

He’s My Girl

The seventh film in Melbourne Queer Film Festival that I attended was the French family drama He’s My Girl.

The Festival blurb for the film said:
Mixing Jewish and gay identities on screen invariably spells a heady brew that’s one part deadpan comedy, two parts screwball, and a bucket-load of heartfelt sentiment. That’s the payoff from director Jean-Jacques Zilbermann’s He’s My Girl, a revisit to the life of a French Jewish clarinettist first realised on screen in Man Is Woman (1998). This time round, Simon Eskenazy (again played by Antoine de Caunes) finds his life in turmoil when his wheelchair-bound Jewish mother arrives with her suitcases. It’s not that she cares that he’s gay. Nor that he’s in love with a Muslim. It’s that her son wants to evict her. The young Muslim, Naïm (played by Mehdi Dehbi, a scene stealer if ever there was one) flits delightfully between identities. On top of his evening vocation as a nightclub maitre d' transvestite, he easily passes as female and befriends Simon’s mother with more than his share of Yiddish conversation. Beyond Naïm’s high jinx excesses, the film shifts into perfect screwball territory with the arrival of Simon’s ex-wife, fiancé and Orthodox son. Never abandoning its well-drawn characters, He’s My Girl delivers a quietly sincere comedy exploration of love without borders. (BZ)
Fairly early in the film, it becomes clear that the central character, middle-aged (though spry and handsome) French Jewish clarinetist Simon Eskenazy is something of a jerk. Yet that does not get in the way of enjoying the film, or caring about what happens.

Which is a tribute to the script, plotting, direction and performances. There are some genuinely powerful moments, the actions of the characters make perfect sense, the film is not afraid of the odd visual gag but what really makes the film work is Mehdi Dehbi’s extraordinary performance as Naim. Visually stunning (a strikingly handsome man, a very beautiful drag queen), willing to stand up to Simon—albeit in sometimes cunning and unexpected ways: very like a drag queen—by the end of the film you are engaged with whether Simon will realize exactly what he has in Naim if he is willing to grab him and not let himself let Naim go.

While Mehdi Dehbi’s performance is extraordinary, all the acting is excellent. Young Taylor Glasman does particularly well as Simon’s young son he has never met when the film starts. I was intrigued by the running minor theme of the police as people to avoid who the rest of society works there way round. The film packs a lot in, but in a very coherent way. A fine family drama that is also a love story.

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