The Braves, (Entre Les Vague, 2022) France
Anaïs Volpé is taking us in the intrepid pondering into the waves of one vivid, energetic, and beautiful friendship, interrupted by the fate.
The younger generation of film directors with contributions to French cinematography in the recent years, have evidently attracted the attention of film critique, particularly with their revisiting and use of film constructions as homages to renowned director, acting and cinematographic creations in their latest production ventures. Such is the case with the feature film The Braves (Entre Les Vagues, 2022) of the 33-year-old actress, screen-writer, and director Anaïs Volpé, in which the central concept aims to reconstruct a familiar subject: friendship and all its trials. The result of her primary idea is certain as during the casting phase Anaïs Volpé solves her film equation by choosing to work with two exceptional actresses, the marvelous Souheila Yacoub (as Margot), who was introduced to the international film public through her collaboration with Gaspar Noe (Climax, 2018), Cédric Klapisch (Rise or En corps, 2022) and Philippe Garrel (The Salt of Tears, 2020). She also appeared in Felix Moari’s TV series No Man’s Land from 2020 and is currently involved in Dune: Part Two. The other role is played by the voluptuous black beauty Deborah Lukumuena (as Alma), who was awarded the César Award for Best Supporting Actress for her first major film role in Houda Benyamina’s film drama Divines (2016).
The director puts our attention to the test from the very first scene in the film by introducing us suddenly to an escalated dispute between the two young women on a theatre stage. They even attempt to hurt one another by attacking and pushing each other, by shouting derogatory words to one another. The row, the noise, and the chaos between characters and voices make the spectator feel lost in a disorderly drama, as if in a theatrical play rehearsal in which Alma and Margot are simply two angry characters, only to find out a bit later on from the crossfire of their exchanged insults that it is “their prepared theatre”. It’s an audition that both of them had taken part in, both competing for the same role in the attempt to attract the interest and attention of a renowned and talented director from Paris. Furthermore, having exhausted us, the spectators, with the quarrel scene, the Parisienne streets seem too narrow for the laughter, the smiles and the embraces of these two best friends, the ones who threatened one another to death only a few seconds earlier. What a beginning! From the first screen shot, the rhythm of the entire story grabs us and does not let go, and we willingly succumb to it and become “a hostage” of this enchanting drama. The camera is often handheld up-close and immediately captures all adventures these inseparable friends take on together. They share everything, all of their sorrows, all their dreams, all of their crazy and brilliant ideas. The past, the present, and the future are all in one with these two vibrant characters. They are like butterflies dancing around a flame, prepared to be burned by it, but also prepared to laugh loudly at their mischievous games by entangling their acquaintances as their audience and the streets of Paris as their stage.
Alma gets the desired role and Margot is both happy and saddened, her emotions are mixed, sparks fly around and youth boils in their veins. She is genuinely happy for Alma, yet, at the same time, she is saddened by her own failure. Still, Alma is hiding something. The self-taught screenwriter Volpé surprises us by awarding Margot the role of first substitute to the main role, (of Alma). This is the moment that makes the alarm go off, that signals “everything is not as it seems”. How and where is Volpé going to “drive” us, until the moment when this great friendship is put to the test in a very brilliant way. One of the two must leave the “stage”. Alma (the first name for the soul), with Margot (the name for a rose) surrender to their roles, the air is electrifying, the truth is revealed, Alma is ill, Margot is devastated, desperate, angry, and deceived.
Alma assures Margot that everything is under control, that nothing has changed between them, that they both have their eyes on the goal, that their mutual path towards the stairway to heaven is within reach, that making espresso is history… Margot is distrustful, Alma is relentless, determined, different, and yet both their hearts beat together, as do their steps in the streets and cafés of Paris to the music of their laughter. The camera is the third character; the love between them wraps them, embraces them, and understands them. Art wins even though life decides to part with it. We trust these two characters from the beginning to the end of the film—they are close to us, they are so realistic, we would love to have a taste of their unconditional friendship at least once in a lifetime. The Braves is an extraordinary film drama with sufficient humor, a portrait of an intensive and true friendship. From a directorial point of view this film is exciting, screenplay-wise, very mature and skillfully packed from a production’s angle. It is a film filled with sudden twists, yet one full of warmth and love. It is impressive as a roller-coaster ride on an empty stomach, an intimate pondering into the desires of talented young people. Art and the love of art, the unstoppable, thunderous, emotional and brutally honest, life as a stage with all incredible grains of love, pain, bonds, grief, wisdom. That is the essence of The Braves.
This feature film was one of the ten selected films on the Perspectives 33 program edition of the International Film Festival in Ljubljana (LIFFe,2022) and it is the winner of the International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI Prize).
Edited by Savina Petkova
© FIPRESCI 2022