The Grocer's Son, The Pool

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The Grocer's Son
Directed by Eric Guirado
Reviewed by Matt Prigge
Opens Fri., Sept. 12

If movies have taught us anything, it's that city life is corrosive while a life spent in the country will unfailingly do a body (or at least a soul) good. So it's with no small pleasure that the lackadaisical French drama The Grocer's Son manages to give this setup a bit of a twist.

Ten years after leaving the family homestead in bumfuck France, thirtysomething Antoine (Nicolas Cazal�) returns when his estranged father suffers a heart attack. Unable to hold a job and filled with familial bitterness, Cazal� nonetheless takes his pop's job: driving a truck stacked with produce and whatnot through the scenic countryside to the rustic villagers.

Yes, Cazal� will learn to treasure the charm and pace of the rural lifestyle, and yes, he'll undergo a considerable deglumification that removes the stick from deep within his ass. But for once his transformation doesn't double as a cheap broadside against vile urban values.

Moreover, the conversion doesn't even begin to take hold till the film has turned the corner from act two to three. Up to then, co-writer/director Eric Guirado spends a lot of time exploring the game of wits between our miserable sorta-hero and the townsfolk, who aren't, shall we say, saints.

Dwelling in dilapidated houses, the old and/or kooky townpersons are difficult and needy. They require the service of someone who, like Cazal�'s dad, has learned their various whims over decades. They immediately take a dislike to the cranky, impatient Cazal�, whose bad attitude manifests itself in nixing customers' long-standing tabs and getting pissy when one wheezing retiree prefers to use the barter system.

Relations are soothed by high-spirited city pal Clotilde Hesme (Love Songs), whom Cazal� has somehow coaxed to join him despite his very obvious unrequited crush on her. But it's still up to Cazal� to chill out, a transformation that makes all the more sense for taking so much screentime.

Alas, once Cazal� has softened up, so does the movie. It'd be one thing if Guirado simply wanted to convey the chillness of the country, but he feels required to tie everything up with a sudden happy ending, even if it cancels out everything the film has been working to build. Sometimes it's better to stay in the big bad city.

The Pool
Directed by Chris Smith
Reviewed by Matt Prigge Opens Fri., Sept. 12

There are few exotic locales filmmakers fetishize and sensualize more than India, particularly (but not exclusively) Westerners smitten by the country's sweaty, colorful surroundings. The class-conscious drama The Pool was directed by Chris Smith (American Movie), who's a Milwaukee native and a documentarian now making a leap into the world of fiction.

But not too much of a leap. Rather than the rapturous, moony cinematography of movies like Water and the recent Before the Rains, The Pool sports a dull palette, relatively speaking, with Smith bringing his skills in the doc world to delve into the nitty-gritty of how his location works rather than how it looks. Smith doesn't stop there: Script and classical three-act structure aside, The Pool is cast with non-pros and sports as little drama as possible.

Venkatesh Chavan plays our hero, a young country boy who's flocked to the hilly, worn-down metropolis of Goa to eke out an existence. Uneducated and cool with his arranged marriage to 10-year-old, Chavan subsists on odd jobs, from legit hotel detail to selling plastic bags on the street with his 11-year-old bud (Jhangir Badshah).

Between shifts he climbs a hill to sneak a peek at a beautiful estate with a glistening pool--an abode he's peeved to find is only occupied periodically and in the case of the pool, barely at all. Chavan convinces the sadsack owner (Nana Patekar) to hire him to work his garden, while he befriends the guy's progressive, rebellious young daughter (Ayesha Mohan).

The drama, such as it is, is fairly internal: Will Patekar--clearly horrified when regaled by Chavan's tales of chicken blood, possession and eating rabbits--successfully convince his naive charge to head to thrilling Bombay and get an education? How will Mohan be transformed by hanging with the staff? Will Chavan hop in that pool already?

Smith is interested in an accumulation of tiny scenes and details, most of them involving the ritual of work, like making hotel beds and the hypnotic cutting of fruit.

The Pool lacks the drive, anger and organic design of Ramin Bahrani's recent Chop Shop, but Smith is after something more warmly humanistic, where upper and lower classes briefly fraternize but fail to fully mesh.

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