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March 30, 2010

Augustin, King of Kung-Fu

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Augustin, Roi du Kung-Fu
Anne Fontaine - 1999
Wide Sight Region 3 DVD

Anne Fontaine's film is a slight comedy-drama, an expansion on an earlier film about a character named Augustin, a childlike man trying to find his place in the world. When first seen in this film, Augustin is on the phone, seeking auditions for small roles in movies. When an immediate offer is made, Augustin claims himself as too busy, and goes off to watch a movie, Drunken Master as it turns out. Inspired by the dream, Augustin travels to as close to China as is currently possible for him, the Chinatown section of Paris.

For someone with the dream of being a French martial arts star, Augustin is hobbled by the fact that he can not stand being touched, even shaking hands is impossible. A cure is sought from an acupuncturist, Ling. Augustin immerses himself in Chinese culture, working at a gift shop, training in kung-fu, and learning to speak Chinese. Augustin is also befriended by an older clerk at the gift shop, Rene.

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I saw Fontaine's first major film, Dry Cleaning, but don't remember much about it. Nathalie and Coco Before Chanel were seen more recently. What appears to be a constant in Fontaine's work is a theme about people put in circumstances where they reinvent themselves. As it turns out, Augustin finds his place in spite of himself, as much as a result of any conscious efforts.

The most extended comedy is in an early scene where Augustin has garnered a small acting job. Constantly forgetting his lines as a waiter, serving a dish to Fanny Ardant and Andre Dussollier, Augustin can't get things right even after thirty-one takes. Augustin complains to the director that he has only had one week to rehearse his one line part.

Jean-Chretien Sibertin-Blanc, perhaps not coincidentally, the brother of Anne Fontaine, resembles Steve Carell, both physically and with the similar kind of character in the latter's career defining 40 Year Old Virgin. Sibertin-Blanc is all energy and enthusiasm but no coordination as he knocks over lamps practicing martial arts moves in his small apartment. A deliberately unglamorous Maggie Cheung plays Ling. It's the kind of role that maybe should have gone to a lesser known actress. It could well be my own perceptions but if she is not performing in Chinese, that Cheung's performances in English with Olivier Assayas work better for me, perhaps because she is the focal point of those films.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at March 30, 2010 12:02 AM