Screening Log: Games of Love and Chance (L’Esquive) (Abdel Kechiche, 2003)

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12/10/2008 10:00 AM |

Your Netflix queue says thanks for bumping up this summer ’05 New York release in anticipation of Kechiche’s lauded latest, The Secret of the Grain (ambitiously dropping the day after Christmas). Here, the verbal sparring and he-said-she-said romantic entanglements of banlieue teens get a classical gloss — all classmates and residents of the same housing project, they’re putting on an 18th-century comedy of manners by Marivaux — and so the flying accusations of “slut!” and crush-shepherding (or manipulating) go-betweens take on a new resonance, high school status and gossip as the stuff of chamber drama.

But this isn’t just a handheld Cruel Intentions (not that there’d be anything wrong with that). Their teacher lays it out early — the play, she says, is about how class determines all; by placing these cussing, lower-class, mostly Muslim teens in relief against high-society, echt-French drama, Kechiche is probing that thesis. It works — and speaks well for the multigenerational French-North African family drama Secret of the Grain — because of the vitality of the performances and the acutely felt details of character motivation, all the true-ringing stuff about gender roles, sexual politics, and psychology that we’re allowed to watch in action rather than have explained to us.