WORKERS FOR THE GOOD LORD (Jean-Claude Brisseau, 1999)

Frédéric (Stanislas Merhar, a Ryan Gosling lookalike), the young protagonist of writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau’s Les savates du bon Dieu, works hard as a garage mechanic for his wife, Élodie, and their infant daughter, trying his best amidst their threadbare existence in the Projects. When the film opens, she is already gone, Frédéric’s voiceover reveals. “I run to her,” he says, making of her a fantasy, and the imagery, including a shot of her naked on their bed (ironically, Élodie becomes a successful model apart from him), suits this fantasy. Frédéric recalls telling Élodie, “I miss you all the time”—and this conflates the time they were together and apart. When he returns home after losing his job because of his temper, he is confronted with the reality of Élodie’s absence. Élodie, who has stripped the apartment bare, leaves him with nothing, writing, “Maybe I never loved you.” Frédéric can barely read the note, which Élodie’s more educated voiceover smoothly finishes as just one more rebuke. “In the Projects,” someone later says, “you start dying the day that you’re born.”
     Frédéric’s grief at abandonment is full-blown. In a point-of-view shot he is glimpsed down a hallway, but a closer shot seems to shift the subjectivity to his while adding the objectivity of our view of him. But then a figure runs to him within the frame, revealing that her subjectivity has been maintained throughout: a dazzling display of Brisseau’s visual control and complexity.
     Postal clerk Sandrine is in love with Frédéric—and, no matter what she claims, this is largely why jealous Élodie splits. Frédéric, Sandrine and Maguette, the son of an African king and something of a shaman, take up a life of crime, committing robberies together in the South.
     Redemption awaits.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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