The Movie Waffler New Release Review - A SEASON IN FRANCE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - A SEASON IN FRANCE

a season in france review
An African refugee struggles to stay afloat in Paris while awaiting the result of his asylum appeal.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Starring: Eriq Ebouaney, Sandrine Bonnaire, Aalayna Lys, Ibrahim Burama Darboe

a season in france poster

Wait, what? Just a couple of days ago I was chatting to a teacher friend who was bemoaning his lot. Attempting, as ever, to be upbeat I asked him that if he could do anything else in the world what would it be? Wistfully, he told me that he’d "jack it all in, move to France, and marry a bird who works in a flower shop": what a romantic! (I then left him to his massive pile of unmarked exercise books ☹). And so imagine my surprise when that same week I received a screener for A Season in France, with its weirdly familiar plotline; 'After a tragedy in his personal life, an African teacher flees his violent country for France, where he falls in love with a local woman who works as a florist.' Someone call Mulder and Scully!

a season in france review

I suppose it’s a beatific, almost clichéd, scenario, with much potential for cosy drama. I try not to read much about a film before I review it and, based on the above plot outline, I settled in for a pleasant hour or so of picturesque, possibly quirky, Parisian romance. Don’t judge a film by its scant imdb blurb: the challenge to expectation in A Season in France begins early. Yes, a teacher does leave Africa for Europe, but it’s to find cheap and exploitative work as a fruit and veg seller in a market, where the early mornings of lugging wooden boxes and long days of trading pommes is a far cry from academia. Yes, he does begin a relationship, but its with the similarly downtrodden and hard-working woman who works across the way on the flower stall. Love? Perhaps, but our central character (Abbas, played by Eriq Ebouaney) is still haunted by the death of his wife, who was shot as they attempted to escape their homeland, leaving Abbas to raise their two children (nineish, sevenish and too precious for this world) alone, save for the support of his similarly displaced brother Etienne (Bibi Tanga). The two spend their downtime dreading/anticipating rejection/approval of their migrant status from Macron’s government, wherein asylum seekers can work for six months while waiting for endorsement. The clock is ticking…

a season in france review

At least Abbas has a home; poor old Etienne abides in a shack somewhere along the Seine, his makeshift shelter packed with the second hand books he and his brother eagerly share (good old books: the cheapest, most infinite entertainment, and always there for you when you need them). A dignified man who keeps up the be-scarfed, spectacle-wearing demeanour of a textbook Parisian intellectual (so much for not integrating, eh), even though his job as security for a chain-store is somewhat incongruous to this garb, it is Etienne’s pride which prevents him from moving in with his bro, even when racist scum burn his shack (and his books) to the ground. Within the necessary insularity of the film, this is a rare comment on the external factors which face non-nationals in France (although the film does feature pre-existing racist graffiti as a real-life testament to these sorts of attitudes). There is little that is preachy or pat about A Season in France: its long takes and naturalistic style completely convince as a representation of experience as is. As the film continues, the emotionally balanced storytelling of writer/director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun reaches a near perfection which is both human and utterly compelling.

a season in france review

Towards the end of A Season in France something quite horrible happens, and the feeling is that the plot point occurs to fulfil the third act obligations of narrative cinema, to climax the routine, perfidious horror of the asylum-seeking experience. Or perhaps suicide, making a final furious statement out of desperation, is an inevitable response to the byzantine procedures of applying for refugee status. Who am I to say? In my fortunate ignorance, I have never had to undergo such misery, and instead enjoy the safe and secure pleasure of just watching films about such ordeals, smugly imagining that they will entail 'cosy drama.' How many more stories like the one so soberly and thoughtfully depicted in this film exist and will continue to exist? Tales that will remain untold, or else distorted into tabloid fodder; and not recounted in the beautifully crafted and quietly devastating manner of A Season in France.

A Season in France is in UK cinemas June 14th.

2019 movie reviews