Cinema Signal:

The Grown-Up's Guide to Living in France

. "The Chateau"

There are a lot of reasons to make a movie. People make movies to make money, to make a statement, to explore the human condition, to send a message, to win awards. None of these seem to have driven writer-director Jesse Peretz to make "The Chateau." It appears, rather, to be the result of his need to give the world an idea about some personal experiences while traveling abroad. Autobiography and an inexpensive digital video camera seems to be the chemistry behind this little offspring. But, despite that, it provides some laughs and brings to our attention at least two outstanding artists.

The story starts when unlikely siblings, bothers Graham (Paul Rudd) and Allen (Rex) Granville (Romany Malco) are en route via train to the castle they've just inherited from a distant relative they never knew. The fact that Allen is black and Graham is white is explained by the fact that Allen is adopted. But that makes him no less an heir to the family abode and does nothing to warrant two such polar opposite types being cast this way.

Too bad there's a staff working the chateau and that Graham failed to properly prepare them for his and his brothers late-night arrival. But, once Jean (Didier Flamand) the butler and chief of staff, gets a look at the paperwork from the French courts, the brothers are reluctantly granted entrance, get rooms, get fed and begin their competitive quest to bequile and seduce Isabelle (Sylvie Testud), the shy young maid with two-year old son.

But the two are ill-prepared for a takeover of control and seem puppets of the much longer-term occupiers of the castle, who don't seem so willing to relinquish control. Graham is a complete bumbler who provides laughs based on his general ineptitude and his attempts to communicate in franglais, or fractured French-English. Allen, the business dude, seemingly smoother and more entrepreneurish, doesn't even ask to see the chateau's books when the staff comes around to "thanking" them for "saving" the chateau from its enormous bills and need for repairs.

It's only when they overhear the staff arguing amongst themselves that the brothers begin to realize that they're being had. It takes a while to ferret out the reasons, and by the time that feat is accomplished, a few lives have been changed and the brothers have had a vacation-adventure. We, the audience, have had a few laughs and little involvement in anything more than farcical shenanigans.

We must be grateful, however, for two elements here that are of world-class, mainstream stature, and for this, we thank Peretz. First, Sylvie Testud, who upon close examination will not take her place amongst the world's gorgeous women, will put anyone to shame with a downplayed eroticism that she delivers with no effort outside the bounds of honesty and realism. Her self-protective laconicism plays to the brother's boundless, sometimes outlandish efforts with a cool delicacy that makes us thirst for more from this skillful, sexy actress.

The second of the wonders lurking within the boundaries of this film shows up on the soundtrack, in two songs. If you haven't heard of Nina Persson, do not leave the theater before the end credits. Instead, sit there and listen to phrasing that's nothing less than angelic. This Swedish singer's (part of "The Cardigans") way of enunciating the words of a song is music itself. Though a soundtrack album is not, at the time of this writing, available, we urge you to look her up!

If this film is nothing more than an excuse for these two, it has served an admirable purpose.

Donal Logue ("The Tao of Steve", "Steal This Movie") makes a somewhat charismatic appearance as the "American buyer" and the rest of the cast is pro, which is what makes it work in the first and last place. It isn't the script, though a structure to it emerges, even if it is highly predictable. One might also forgive its slightness on the basis that it was shot (in hand-held, blown up, grainy digital video) in a mere 10 days, the single location, limited cast size, and minimal equipment package making that possible.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
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Site rating: 6

Ah, as Graham might have said (half translated back into English), "it was to fall chef fini pieds (head over heels) into amour" watching Silvie -- who, contrary to the reviewer's viewpoint, is a woman's whose beauty is haunting for its just-beyond-reach nature. Unlike some instantly acknowledged as 'beautiful', this woman lets you become aware almost by accident -- through brief glimpses she presents into her being -- of the sensuality and strength of self that defines her.

[Ed. note: All right. You convinced me!]

                                                           ~~ Doug H. 

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Paul Rudd, Sylvie Testud, Romany Malco in a question of ownership

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