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Saturday, Dec. 9, 2000


Shiny happy future people

I have a problem with the future. I don't fit in. All my life I've tried to identify with characters in futuristic movies but realized this was impossible. Shiny PVC gives me a rash, and I am the most computer-illiterate human I know. Throw me into a sci-fiaction picture and I'm one of those poor souls who end up impaled on the point of a snazzed-up bayonet, or crunched underfoot by mutated monsters -- and within the first two minutes, sans credits. Whoosh, boom, thank you. Off the set, please.

But at long last, a movie set in the future that fills me with confidence -- "Mais oui, I can do that!" A vision of the future that's not bleak, not terribly techy, not crawling with people with their spines tapped into computer games. Everyone is quaint and friendly and wears great clothes: a hybrid of Yohji Yamamoto and Nike.

Directed by Cedric Klapische, the movie is "Peut- E^tre (Perhaps)." Klapische has a rep for scattering oddball characters across quirky stories, told in a subtle, modest way. He shuns glamour and contrivances. Nor does he go much for irony. His movies aren't the type that would grab your attention if they were playing on the video screen of a noisy club, but if he gets you alone in a theater or with a date at home his charms will sink in like the springs on an old sofa.

There are no extremes, and all the dials are set at just the right levels. His work is (with utmost respect) the equivalent of room temperature.

"Peut- Etre" opens on the tiny Parisian apartment of Arthur (Romain Duris). It's New Year's Eve and he is heading to a costume party -- "come as your favorite sci-fi character." Young and poor, Arthur improvises: He pulls on black pants and boots, dons a sweat shirt and hopes to fob himself off as Captain Kirk. Waiting for him at the party is girlfriend Lucie (Geraldine Pailhas), decked out in sequins and fishnet stockings. Lucie has decided that tonight is the night: She will get pregnant, have a baby, open a joint checking account with Arthur and finally get her life together.

Arthur is terrified. He's not ready for a baby; he can hardly make ends meet as it is. Besides, it's wrong to bring new life into such a messed-up world. Arthur makes up a hundred other excuses and locks himself in the bathroom.

There, on the ceiling, he discovers a doorway. The next minute, he has hoisted himself up and gone through other doors, up air ducts and out into a different Paris. It's sunny. Larks fly overhead. The air is cool and dry. The city is almost completely buried in sand, with only a few rooftops jutting above the dunes.

Klapische had wanted to "show a future untouched by digital effects and NASA." The location work was done in Tunisia (right after "Star Wars: Episode 1") and he gladly made use of the buildings Lucas' crew had left behind. In Klapische's scheme of things, the future is chic and analog, with people moving around on camels or the occasional motorbike. Owing to the shortage of houses, multigenerational families live together and women start having babies again. There are still cafes, places to dance and not a computer in sight.

This is the world Arthur wanders into, but he can't enjoy it because an old man called Ako (Jean-Paul Belmondo) introduces himself as Arthur's future son. Ako had engineered Arthur's entry because he knows that his would-be papa is reluctant to have kids. Along with his wife and the rest of the family clan, Ako begs Arthur to reconsider and get Lucie pregnant, preferably tonight. Or else "the whole future" will be jeopardized.

Romain Duris, who could be Brad Pitt's long-lost French cousin, is brilliant as the wishy-washy Arthur. But it's Belmondo who's the real scene-stealer. The sight of this 67-year-old clawing at the 26-year-old Duris and crying "Papa!" is hilarious and strangely moving. At this point in his life, Belmondo's face is a ruin, but like the Coliseum, it's a spectacular ruin. To face his face onscreen, knowing his former self in works like "A bout de souffle (Breathless)," is in itself a travel in time. In my book, this is what science fiction is all about.

"Peut- Etre" opens today at Yebisu Garden Cinema. Dialogue in French.

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