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Oui Differences

January 8, 2009 By:
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A scene from "Dans La Vie," part of the ongoing PJFF

Can't we all get along?

A look at current headlines emanating from the Mideast may provide a pragmatic bomb blast of an answer to that seemingly innocent question.

But, as anyone knows, this is not the age of innocence.

Which makes French director Philippe Faucon's fine-laced embroidery on the topic -- "Dans La Vie" ("Two Ladies") -- a welcome respite from the radioactive hate that is strafing the Gaza Strip at the moment.

A delicate (some would say delusional) dance among the differences of people -- in this case an elderly Jewish woman in Paris and her Arab caretaker -- takes care to turn down the volume on stereotypes while turning up the high-fidelity all share in pursuit of a more perfect life.

"Dans La Vie" dances onto the schedule of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival (www.pjff. org) -- the current edition devoted to French fare -- with an evening screening on Jan. 12, at the Gershman Y in Center City.

This movie may very well be Faucon's crest; popular in France, he has taken on international acclaim with the release of "Dans La Vie," which tore up Toronto audiences at the 2007 film festival there.

That northern exposure helped put the focus and footlights on a film about a Parisian Jewish kvetch of an incapacitated woman whose experiences with anti-Semitism in her native Algeria would seem to put her at odds with the Algerian caretaker who takes over her daily routine.

Oscar and Felix with French fulminations?

A oui bit: A scene with both women -- Esther and Halima -- at the Turkish baths is awash with humor and the haimisch tone that besets so much of the movie.

But then, a clash of cultures these days is underscored by a ballistic ballet on the real world's front pages/stages.

And so it was back then, when the director collaborated with others in putting together this sweet-spirited film of nonprofessionals playing out real conflicts: "We started shooting just at the time of the Lebanon war breakout, in 2003," recalls Faucon, himself Moroccan-born but whose mother is of Algerian origin.

Familiar Turf
Which is a reason so much of the movie hits home. "I felt very close to the issues on screen, the malaise," he says, also knowing of a Muslim woman "who had been a nurse taking care of women of that generation in both Jewish and muslim" neighborhoods.

It all generated a source of conflict -- and community -- for these "Two Ladies," whose kosher capers and interfaith indulgences make the offscreen screams of war seem so painfully pointless.

Could these cinematic shots be heard 'round the world? So far they have. And they have had a real impact, contends the director -- partially because the actors seem so real. "I wanted nonprofessionals not because of budgetary reasons but because nobody could have the verisimilitude of the women I chose.

"Certainly, it could have been interesting with professional actors, but it wouldn't have been the truth."

Truth is that it was the ties that bind -- and not the rope-like tug of war between the women -- that intrigued Faucon. "What is important is to talk about the little pleasures," not the splinters, he says.

And in the run-up to making this film, Faucon focused on the rocky steps of overcoming differences. But then, as Rocky himself once learned, a marathon is a life quest tracked moment by moment.

And it is now Faucon's moment. "You can say the theme is naive, yes, but this film has led to people talking, speaking together."

And just a mile away from the art museum itself, the director screens a movie that speaks -- and sprints -- for itself.

Understanding ... it all begins, he explains softly of piecing together peace, "with a little step." 

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