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IFI French Film Festival 2017 Review - THE PRICE OF SUCCESS

the price of success review
A stand-up comedian is torn between family loyalty and career ambition.







Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Teddy Lussi-Modeste

Starring: Tahar Rahim, Roschdy Zem, Maiwenn, Gregoire Colin

the price of success poster


When writing a screenplay, careful consideration must be given to the chosen profession of your protagonist, especially if that occupation is the chief inspiration and motivation behind their actions. Most trades can be researched, and it's relatively easy to convince an audience that your central character is a skilled carpenter, plumber or engineer. Artists and creative types are a different story however. If a screenplay's hero is a successful singer/songwriter for example, the scriptwriter should possess some songwriting talent of their own. The same goes for stand-up comedians. If a screenwriter isn't able to make people laugh, how can they write a character known for their ability to have sell-out crowds in stitches?

the price of success

This is the problem at the core of Teddy Lussi-Modeste's The Price of Success. Neither Lussi-Modeste or his co-writer Rebecca Zlotowski (herself a talented, if inconsistent filmmaker) are known for working in the comedy genre (far from it in Zlotowski's case), yet here they are co-writing a movie about a stand-up comedian, Brahim (Tahar Rahim), a second-generation Algerian whose career is taking off rapidly.

In the English speaking world we have a very snobbish attitude to humour, and we often view continental Europe as a comedy wasteland. This of course, is nonsense, as France has produced some of the funniest movies ever made - see the recent Saint Amour if you want to laugh until your ribs hurt - but if Brahim is at the top of the stand-up comedy ladder in France, that's a damning statement about French comedians. As you would expect from a character portrayed by Rahim, one of the most watchable of France's current crop of young stars, Brahim is very charismatic, but he simply isn't funny. The film wisely skirts around his stand-up for the most part, but when we're offered a brief glimpse at Brahim on stage, his material is so weak that the entire premise of the film collapses. Even Rupert Pupkin's routine in The King of Comedy was funny in a 'so bad you can't help but laugh' kind of way. Brahim? Crickets.

the price of success

We may not find Brahim funny, but the film is convinced he's France's answer to Chris Rock, and so agents and promoters are scrambling for his signature. This creates a moral conflict for Brahim when he is forced to choose between signing a contract with a top promoter and remaining loyal to his older brother Mourad (Roschdy Zem), who has filled the roles of agent, adviser and bodyguard for Brahim since the beginning of his career.

Mourad is a volatile individual with a quick temper. A confrontation in a clothing store leads him to tear a ring out of the ear of a mouthy rival; later he raises a hand to Brahim's girlfriend (Maiwenn); and along with a gang of hangers on, dishes out a violent beating to Brahim's new agent. He doesn't take well to being spurned by his brother, and his increasing rage begins to send the film into genre territory.

the price of success

Lussi-Modeste doesn't quite seem to know what type of story he wishes to tell, and the tone changes wildly from scene to scene. At times it's a culture clash comedy, like when Brahim brings his very French and very liberated girlfriend to meet his very North African and very conservative family. Other times it sways closer to the gangster genre, as Mourad and his mob engage in violent acts, accompanied by a throbbing synth score from Rob that would be more at home in a slasher movie.

The Price of Success really succeeds as neither comedy, drama nor thriller. Rahim and Zem are an engaging pair of performers (though physically, it's difficult to buy them as brothers), but they're stuck in a film riddled with cliches; one that adds no new insight to the crowded field of narratives about, well, the price of success. 



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