SIFF “Face The Music” previews: Bus Palladium

Bus Palladium
directed by Christopher Thompson
(France, 100 minutes)

Festival Screenings:

May 21, 2010 9:30 PM, Pacific Place Cinema
May 23, 2010 8:00 PM, Admiral Theater
May 25, 2010 4:00 PM, Neptune Theatre

Oh, the French. How they love the legends of America and are somehow able to make even our most insane excesses seem seductive and mythological when reinterpreted according to their culture. Bus Palladium is funny, and sweet, and (yes) not at all hard on the eyes, as a French rock and roll movie should be.

Directed by Christopher Thompson and chosen as a late addition to the SIFF Face The Music series (as well as part of the Contemporary World Cinema program), Bus Palladium is the story of a (guess what?) sexy young rock band named (what else?) Lust. Entanglements occur as the band struggles with the mental unbalance of enfant-terrible lead singer Manu (played roguishly-Morrisonesque by curly-headed Arthur Dupont); the usual band turmoils (writing enough material, the expected on-stage fisticuffs); and the salty temptations of a young woman named Laura (Elisa Sednaoui) who slides restlessly between Manu and his band’s co-leader Lucas (Marc-Andre Grondin). Oh yeah, the latter two are (uh huh) best friends.

The dangerous threesome-energy helps liberate this recurrent cinematic theme from the usual American rock band trajectory of celebrity peek-valley, as somewhat realistic elements about the music business (the label is very demanding) are unveiled, and we learn that even when you actually are crazy, it can be a challenge to evade military conscription anyways. (Manu openly wrestles with suicidal impulses involving heights and various drugs, but his stare down and verbal slapping around by a suspicious draft nurse is an amazing scene of French insouciance.)

Actually, in spite of a very familiar script, the music isn’t bad and the acting is extraordinary throughout, as the band seems realistically ebullient to be performing, the members’ visceral responses to the challenges aren’t too unreal. Most noteworthy, Grondon in particular shows a gracious handling of maturity and enthusiasm in every scene, whether playing out with Dupont and the boys, or nervously playing with Laura while stomping on feelings of betrayal towards Manu.

The story of Lust is captured before they do more than release a seven inch record and do a brief tour, so maybe Bus Palladium deserves the credit for showing a band at their all too brief and early peak, and being more involved with the creative energies behind being in a band than the desire to dominate the world. Not that they would have minded that, probably.

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