One of a number of Rohmer riffs making the festival rounds currently, À l’abordage! is also the latest film from Guillaume Brac, a director whose work just so happens to be oft-compared to that of the late French auteur. But Brac’s film isn’t simple mimicry, and, indeed, he finds a way to translate a Rohmerian sorting of narrative and sense of pacing into a mild, modern-day comedy with humor and conflict that feel genuinely contemporary. In fact, À l’abordage! is sort of a savvy synthesis of that comedic style with bawdier road trip material more associated with recent pop cinema.
The film begins on a scene that will be complicated and undermined as the film progresses— a dreamy, impressionistic sequence detailing a brief summer romance between Felix (Éric Nantchouang) and Alma (Asma Messaoudene), two young students crossing paths while in transit to other parts of France. The film then becomes about Felix’s pursuit of Alma, who he decides to intercept in the South of France where she’s vacationing with family, enlisting his friend Chérif (Salif Cissé) and a dude on a rideshare app (Édouard Sulpice) to help him make the trek. These early moments of male bonding and road trip hijinks aren’t all that funny or distinctive, but Brac rewards the audience with an amusing narrative bait and switch that successfully disrupts and splinters the plot.
Brac and co-screenwriter Catherine Paillé’s script dabbles in tropes and archetypes, but it also finds several sharp ways to interrogate them, placing them in contrast to improvised performances and autobiographical details incorporated from the actors’ own lives. That said, À l’abordage!‘s meandering pace and wandering focus mean that it can fall into tangents less interesting than others, and unconsciously stumble back into cliché and tedious bro humor. Not totally damning by any means, but the experience of watching Brac’s film isn’t quite as breezy as it would appear to be, wavering between inspired moments of genuine, laugh-out-loud comedy — an exchange between a tax lawyer and the man rejecting her advances stands out — and less thoughtful material that sometimes threatens to undermine the film’s larger critique of the narrative realm it’s working in. Still, À l’abordage! is more vibrant than not, with a rhythm all its own, and while it certainly falters and allows its attention to drift, Brac and his cast are generally able to pull the proceedings back on course.
Published as part of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2021 — Dispatch 2.