In a world dominated by a male perspective, cinema gets its own share, too. After seeing many adventure stories followed by sudden love, where men put in hilarious effort to redirect the flow of a woman's life for the sake of love, I am happy to have watched French production "Joueurs," which seeks an alternative plot.
Having shot two short films, Marie Monge's first feature "Joueurs" offers an out-of-the-box account of how love and passion turns a woman's life upside down and how desperately she tries to save her partner. But before all of this, I need to state that the English counterpart of the film's name should not be "Treat me Like Fire." "Joueurs" simply means "players" in French, and the plot is based on gambling passion accompanying lovely passion. The name "Treat Me like Fire" drives you away from the main highlight and sounds like another ordinary love story with a sauce of physical intimacy.
The film starts at a very busy Parisian boutique bistro run by a family. It is a firm symbol of "petite bourgeoisie," small but safe, like it has been there for centuries and it will be so for centuries more. Played by Stacy Martin, Ella, the daughter of the family, works as a waitress, keeps the accounts and does the errands to keep the family business going. She does not seem to have a life other than the bistro while staying away from the ghettos and the underground nightlife of the metropolitan city, until Abel shows up to fill an empty position. Obviously, from Arab origins in terms of outlook, Abel is an attractive, zealous and charming guy, acted by Algerian-French actor Tahar Rahim. In contrast to Ella's introverted, prudent and withdrawn approach, he is self-confident, challenging and easygoing. On the first day he starts working at the bistro, he steals money from the cashier right in front of Ella's eyes and starts running down the street, with Ella pursuing him. This crazy behavior turns out to be calculated when Abel persuades Ella to gamble and double the daily turnover. With the help of beginner's luck, Ella is drawn to the excitement of gambling, as well as the charm of Abel, but what starts in a flash shatters even faster. As Ella opens up to her passions, it starts to cost her the orderly life she had built, paying her debts, disconnecting from her family and ruining her life. Abel takes everything one more step further and all the burden of keeping the partner awake is on Ella's shoulders. She undertakes the mission of being the carrier of the relationship, unlike most of the other similar stories.
One critical aspect of the screenplay is that the troublesome, thorny and unstable Abel and his accomplice cousin, who provides means and contributes to Abel's illegal pleasures, Nacim, played by Karim Leklou, are the children of Arab migrants. Nacim works at a repair shop run by his family. They obviously live in an underprivileged neighborhood. Monge makes a vital point when Nacim's father shows hospitality to Ella, whom he meets for the first time, and insists on offering some drinks to her with great enthusiasm. This is an Eastern trait not found in Parisian families. Showing this side of the city partly points to the keen eye of the director; it is not easy to face life in the ghetto, the disadvantaged conditions they live in and how easily they become desperate, villainous and hopeless.
When it comes to the technical aspects of the film, the ups and downs of the story, character building and the excellent acting of Rahim are all impressive. So are the close shots, contributing city lights and soft colors. However, how Ella evolves to become desperately lost, how she comes to lose her house and everything and how she breaks connections with the family are depicted superficially. These aspects could have been worked on with more touching details. Still, the story stays with you after leaving the theater and is worth seeing. The film could be a promising start to Monge's filmography.
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