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Faubourg 36 (2009)

  • Review: ** ½ (out of ****)
  • Starring: Gérard Jugnot, Clovis Cornillac, Kad Merad, Nora Arnezeder, Pierre Richard, Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu, Maxence Perrin
  • Director: Christophe Barratier
  • Screenplay: Christophe Barratier, Julien Rappeneau, Pierre Philippe, Frank Thomas, Reinhardt Wagner, Jean-Michel Derenne
  • Length: 120 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexuality and nudity, violence and brief language.

In a Parisian theater, a group of disparate entertainers face radical change in their city, and within their own lives as Faubourg 36, a semi-musical drama set just prior to World War II.

Although the story tells many stories, ostensibly Faubourg 36, released in the United States as Paris 36, is about an aging father (Gérard Jugnot) caught in the maelstrom of the French depression while combating an adulterous wife who wins custody of his beloved son Jojo (Maxence Perrin). The story follows as he works hard to earn enough money and stature that he can petition for custody or at least visitation.

The film is bookended by an investigation into the kindly old theater manager Pigoil and his purported involvement in the murder of local kingpin Galapiat (Bernard-Pierre Donnadieu). You eventually find out who killed Galapiat, but by that point you don’t really care much.

The film drags mercilessly for its two-hour running time. Injected with an original song score that’s mostly banal and bland, director Christophe Barratier seems more enamored with keeping the pretty costumes and settings toned down to mirror the period, than he does with actually telling a story with any zeal or panache.

The story is involving enough thanks to the performance by Jugnot who does his best to keep the film afloat despite its obvious frailties. His Pigoil is an easily sympathetic character wrestling with doing the right and the wrong things in order to see his son again.

The only other actor that creates an impression is Clovis Cornillac who plays Clovis Cornillac, a workers’ rights advocate whose attitude conflicts with Jugnot until they come down on the same side of the fight to revive the shuttered theater. He isn’t outstanding, but certainly above par. He is a bit one-dimensional at times, but as the film moves along, he develops a more multi-faceted personality.

Nora Arnezeder, as the waif Douce who arrives one day hoping to fulfill her dreams of becoming a star and latching on to Galapiat who is attracted to her as a method of finding her own way, is about as green an actress as you probably could get. Her doe-eyed wonder persists through most of the film and only slightly dims in those scenes where it needs to. Donnadieu is likewise limited in role, although he does branch out in some scenes when with Douce, but otherwise remains a typical, thinly-written villain.

There are positive aspects to Faubourg 36, but it’s hard not to feel a bit blasé about it all. The story should be a rousing one and you should feel more than passing curiosity for it all.