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The Snows of Kilimanjaro (4 stars)

Provocative drama from the French Ken Loach, Robert Guédiguian

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The Snows of Kilimanjaro

Not to be confused with the 1952 Hollywood film of the same name, this is the latest slice of social realism from France’s answer to Ken Loach, Robert Guédiguian. Guédiguian’s The Snows of Kilimanjiro takes it name from the 1966 sugary French pop hit ‘Les neiges de Kilimandjaro’ by Pascal Danel (which is put to ironic use in the film) and was inspired by the Victor Hugo poem Les pauvre gens.

Having taken a break from his chosen milieu with his previous film, the French Resistance thriller The Army of Crime, Guédiguian is back on his home-turf with another tough-minded but warm-hearted story set among the working class of modern-day Marseille. This one concerns a couple, Michel and Marie-Claire (beautifully played by Guédiguian regulars Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Ariane Ascaride), a pair of former political activists who have been happily married for 30 years.

Having made himself redundant during the latest round of lay-offs at the docks at which he worked and was a union representative, Michel settles into early retirement and he and Marie-Claire enjoy their now bourgeois lifestyle, delighting in time spent with their grandchildren. Their happiness is brought to an abrupt halt, however, when their home is broken into and they become the victims of a violent robbery. In the aftermath of the horrific event, Michel and Marie-Claire learn that one of the assailants was a fellow dockworker named Christophe, who was also laid off and whose mother has left him to raise his two young brothers alone.

Faced with these revelations, Michel and Marie-Claire find themselves in a moral dilemma in which their socialist beliefs clash with their bourgeois life. Guédiguian uses this dramatic crisis to interrogate the difference between having principles and taking action, and how the one becomes easier, the other harder as we get older. Provocative stuff.

Selected release from Fri 14 Sep.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

  • 4 stars
  • 2011
  • France
  • 107 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Robert Guédiguian
  • Cast: Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gérard Meylan
  • UK release: 14 September 2012

Michel (Darroussin) is a dockworker and union rep who takes early retirement, but when he and wife (Ascaride) are the victims of a violent robbery committed by another former dockworker, their socialist principles clash with their comfortable lifestyle. Tough-minded and warm-hearted stuff from Army of Crime…

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