Lars and the Real Girl

Starring Habib Boufares, Hafsia Herzi, Faridah Benkhetache and Abdelhamid Aktouche. Directed by Abdel Kechiche
Running Time: 148 mins
Rated: Rated M (moderate coarse language, sexual references). French and Arabic with English subtitles

This is an intriguing film. It is very long, the last 30 minutes sometimes testing the patience of the audience, especially with the long belly dance as well as the highly emotional outburst of one of the central characters. (While the outburst is justified, the stridency of the performance in the way that it is filmed is very demanding on the audience; the belly dance also contributes to the tension of the film and the situation, but it is also very long.)

The film is set on the Mediterranean coast amongst the French-Arabic community. It focuses on an older man, a worker on the docks for thirty-five years.

It highlights his work, his skills. It also highlights his difficulties with the changing work patterns of the 21st century, the role of Arabic workers, and the role of the French.

The film is very strong in its portrayal of the extended family (while the central character is divorced, we see his ex-wife, nagging) as well as his various children and their families. One of his daughters is happily married but is exasperated with her child's toilet training. Another daughter is very glamorous and poised in life. Another is quite young. There is also a happily married older daughter with her non-Arabic husband. There are two sons, the older who works on the docks and as a tourist guide is unfaithful to his Russian-born wife. It is she who has the outbursts. The other is a genial young man.

The father also lives in a hotel, is in a partnership with the owner of the hotel and a father figure to her daughter.

The central focus of the film is the older man's decision to turn a wrecked and dilapidated boat into a restaurant. The municipal powers are against him. However, he perseveres. With family and friends, he is able to transform the ship. He also holds and inaugural dinner for 100 guests, many of them municipal authorities coming, with the help of his ex-wife making the couscous which is her specialty because she knows the secret of the grain. The rest of the family also do help as do friends from the bar. However, there is a crisis when the older philandering son takes the car to avoid seeing his mistress with the couscous in the back. This has crisis effect for the dinner itself and the final half hour of the film is the way in which the crisis is handled. Then the film suddenly ends, leaving interpretation for the future open to the audience.

The film uses handheld camera quite a deal, with great fluidity in conversations and, especially, the family meal. With the close ups, there is an intimacy and an intensity in the characters' expressing themselves both seriously and comically. To this extent, the film is quite a detailed and intense exploration of characters and their interrelationships, in the context of contemporary France and the issues about migrants, especially from North Africa.

Winner of the Jury Prize at Venice, the FIPRESCI prize and a SIGNIS commendation.

Palace Out Now

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting

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