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Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2001

'Louise (Take 2)'


By By KAORI SHOJI

Rating: * * * * Director: Siegfried Running time: 110 minutes Language: FrenchOpens Aug. 18 at Shibuya Cinema Society

'Louise (Take 2)" is a "road movie" in the most truthful, undiluted sense of the term. And yet it is far, far removed from the liberating buoyancy of ordinary road movies in which the protagonists don cool shades, get in some beautifully obscure car (like a '63 pink Studebaker), then drive off in an artistic whoosh of gravel and exhaust.

Elodie Bouchez in "Louise (Take 2)"

No, "Louise (Take 2)" is set within the confines of the Paris Metro, dooming the characters to low ceilings, dirty seats and the realization that no matter how long and how far they ride, at some point in the day they'll come back to right where they started. There's plenty of movement, but no one's going anywhere. Still, "Louise (Take 2)" can rekindle long-forgotten wanderlusts and awaken an urge to take off down some alleyway and disappear forever.

Written, directed, scored and filmed by Parisian artist Siegfried, "Louise (Take 2)" recalls Wong Kar-wai in the days when he showed us that the camera, characters and cityscapes can jump around as if on some big cinematic trampoline. Siegfried has similar eye muscles, and powerful legs to boot -- he claims that cinematography is all about carrying a camera and running for long distances.

"Louise (Take 2)" employs his stamina to full advantage. Starring Elodie Bouchez, whom Serge Gainsbourg called "the last Lolita of Paris," the film is a happy marriage of high style and low budget -- with a little help from a third party called Talent. Bouchez, who comes off as a natural Metro waif, tinges her performance with a kind of Rimbaudesque poetry. The sight of her sprinting with abandon down station platforms in nothing but a light, white gown and an orange vest in the middle of winter -- what joy, what pain.

The biggest attraction of "Louise (Take 2)" and the reason why this is the ultimate road movie: Nothing here lasts more than five minutes. Emotions, incidents, thoughts, decisions, even basic needs like hunger and sleep, fade quickly as things move on to the next phase. Everything is moving, but never toward any discernible destination.

Siegfried is careful not to draw any conclusions. Instead, he just tracks the story, moment by precious moment. His sometimes wobbly camera-work is redolent of a documentary. Upping the naturalism, he encouraged the actors to ad-lib and make up incidents not written in the screenplay.

Despite this, "Louise (Take 2)" remains a classic bittersweet tale of boy-meets-girl. Louise (Bouchez) is supposedly a student, but spends all her time cruising the subway cars hooking up with other street roughs and shoplifting. She wears a voluminous down jacket for this purpose and always has something stashed in there for no-good boyfriend Yaya (Gerald Thomassin).

One day she meets Remi (Roschdy Zem), who is a genuine homeless person with nothing in the world but the suit on his back, and she is immediately attracted. They form a friendship that's strengthened by the appearance of a 9-year-old boy called Gaby (Antoine du Merle) who latches onto Louise as the sister/mother (perhaps even lover) figure he has been starved of.

Ever the Lady Bountiful, Louise takes Gaby, Remi and Yaya back to the apartment she shares with her novelist dad (Lou Castel), who is so deeply buried in his manuscripts he doesn't even notice when she brings strangers home. But as the days wear on, the presence of Remi and Gaby alters the chemistry she had going with Yaya and the rest of the Metro gang. Things spin further out of control when a department store heist goes awry. Typically, Louise is the only one arrested. Remi barely escapes, Gaby is taken to a children's shelter, and Yaya ditches Louise for her best friend.

While the film is mainly about life in the Metro, the subtext is Louise's quest for an extended family: a child to love and a man to love her always. In this, Louise is sadly deluded; the movie never fails to remind us that Remi is unreliable and a womanizer, or that Gaby is in need of constant care and attention that cannot be provided in a subway. Louise's stubborn conviction that she will find her family inside the Metro dissolves finally when she sets Gaby free, far from Paris, on a sea coast with another girl his own age. And when she eventually meets Remi again, the scene does not slide into any definitive ending -- like the Metro, it simply rumbles on into the darkness, destined to stop only briefly before taking off once more.



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