Ensemble, C’est Tout

This is directed by Claude Berri who, at 74 years old, remains a powerful figure in French Cinema, having produced almost 60 films including a few Asterix et Obelix live action films, and more recently, Yvan Attal’s Happily Ever After. Berri has also directed some 20 odd films–although they’re not odd at all. They are bourgeois, domestic. But also somewhat satirical. He is known for what some call his “Bobo” style (bourgeois-bohemian). I don’t think Germinal (1993) or Jean de Florette/Manon des Sources (1986) qualify as Bobo. But Ensemble, C’est Tout certainly does. And it is, more or less, an enjoyable film.

The American title, Hunting and Gathering–which is taken from the English translation of the international bestseller by Anna Gavalda–even when taken figuratively only vaguely gets at what this film is about, which is the sense of community and the warmth we seek from it. In fact, you will need blankets and sweaters when watching this because it is a very cold film–not just in terms of the film’s style. Berri and his cinematographer, the great Agnes Godard, use a color palette here that is somewhat muted. A lot of grays and faded greens. But the film also feels cold–there are few films that have made me feel what the characters feel (here, it is fatigue, hunger, chills). Most of the film takes place in an apartment owned by timid, fading aristocrat named Philibert (he mockingly presents himself using his official title, Phillibert Marquet de la…and so on)–it’s a massive furnished apartment he has inherited from his grandmother. And you can feel the drafts. And you can even smell the dust and mildew, the age. Philibert lives with his friend Franck, a chef’s assistant and a mean bastard, who is tested emotionally by the demands of others, particularly his grandmother, who he must move to an assisted living facility against her wishes. Philibert meets a young woman, Camille (played by Audrey Tautou, of Amélie fame and The Da Vinci Code infame), who lives at the very top of the building, in an attic apartment–again a cold, dark, drafty space. Just uninhabitable. Philibert carries the tiny, sick and frail Camille (in the book, it’s quite explicit: she’s anorexic) to live with him, downstairs, with Franck–and here, I think, is the gesture that typifies the film’s spirit: the notion of community and the search for warmth, physical and emotional. But, as I have said, Philibert’s apartment is cold, too. Just not as cold. The small community of Philibert, Camille, and Franck may indeed fail, but, as the film suggests, solitude wears down the body and soul faster than other people do. Hence, I think, the title: together, that is all.

3 thoughts on “Ensemble, C’est Tout

  1. I’m trying to find out who recommended Happily Ever After to me. I thought I found a recommendation here on our blog, but I nothing comes up in a search. We really enjoyed it.

  2. you know, john, this is really nice. who knew that you had a warm heart behind that blond hairy chest of yours?

    your fine review got me thinking of movies in which people meet and interact meaningfully (or not, but the lack of meaningfulness has poignancy to it) in apartment buildings. the science of sleep comes to mind as a fine example of what i have in mind. what else? i see doors closing and people climbing stairs with their hands full of groceries, i even here their voices, but i don’t know on what piece of celluloid they are…

  3. in response to gio’s question:

    the death of mr. lazarescu
    harold and kumar go to white castle

    yeah, it’s tough to come up with apartment movies.

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