Cambridge Film Festival 2012: The Snows Of Kilimanjaro

Time again for the Cambridge Film Festival, which this year is using the same abbreviation of CFF12 as the recent Cambridge Folk Festival (good job there aren’t also annual local celebrations of contrary indie-rock groups, otherwise we’d have the Cambridge Fall Festival and the Cambridge Felt Festival as well). I generally try to get the week off for this, as there’s nothing I like better than spending glorious autumnal afternoons secreted away in dark rooms watching gloomy and esoteric dissections of the human condition. To be fair, the programme for this year’s event is bewilderingly diverse, with more showings than can be contained on the three screens of the superb Arts Picturehouse – you can also go and watch films in Emmanuel College or at Cambridge University Press or in the amazingly well-preserved round theatre at the back of the Buddhist Centre. There’s more choice than my linear brain can cope with, so I’m more or less selecting films to watch at random: you have been warned.

First up is The Snows Of Kilimanjaro, a new film written and directed by Robert Guédiguian and inspired by a poem by Victor Hugo, and not be confused with the 1952 adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway story of the same name starring Gregory Peck. Although interestingly the lead character here, freshly redundant union leader Michel, does seem to have something of Hemingway about him in his physical stockiness and grizzled resilience. This film does, I guess, qualify as a dissection of the human condition, though my lazy generalisation above is immediately thrown back in my face as it’s not particularly gloomy and not at all esoteric. It follows the fortunes of Michel and his family as he adjusts to a life of early retirement, and while he certainly feels a little ill-used and out of sorts he can hardly complain, what with his nice house, beautiful wife, adoring grandchildren and generous severance package. He’s forced to question how deserving he is of all this however after he’s the victim of a brutal and bungled crime which leads him to investigate the lot of someone who’s had none of the advantages he’s enjoyed, and the film also examines the differing reactions of his family members and friends, and the dependents of the man who wronged him.

Stylistically The Snows Of Kilimanjaro is completely straightforward and conventionally shot, with no editorial tricks apparent apart from the slightly jarring use of a string-based score in a couple of scenes. Events unfold at a relaxed pace, but there’s a point to every conversation and incident and there’s hardly anything that might warrant cutting. Interestingly the main plot seems to resolve about half way through the 107 minute running time, but this is more of a character piece than a thriller and there are plenty of emotional revelations to come. A film as naturalistic and small-scale as this one is highly dependent on the calibre of its actors and thankfully the casting seems to be spot-on, with Jean-Pierre Darroussin anchoring proceedings perfectly as the principled but doubt-plagued Michel, and Ariana Ascaride investing the part of Michel’s wife Marie-Claire with intelligence and farsightedness. My main point of issue with the film is that ultimately things seem to wrap up too neatly, with all the main players behaving with an enlightened reasonableness that seems to run counter to the trauma they’ve been put through. Or maybe I’ve just been conditioned to expect too much angst from my arthouse. Anyway, this was sweet, engaging and accessible, even if it didn’t maybe cut as deep as it might have done.

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