Arthur Rambo (2021)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5

, 2021. , , . Screenplay by , Laurent Cantet, . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Film Editing by .

Handsome, talented and full of promise, Karim D () has taken France by storm with the publication of a book inspired by his Algerian immigrant mother’s life experience, which he promotes on a nationally popular literary talk show (god bless France) that sees him announced as the voice of his generation and culture. Before the book launch party can finish, however, it also comes to light that extremist tweets posted a few years earlier on a Twitter account were written by him under the alias “Arthur Rambo”, and just as quickly as his star rises, it falls and he is the subject of condemnatory action from his publishers and his public.

Karim tries to explain that the account was a fictional character created in a spirit of jest, but his protestations fall on deaf ears, his mother is concerned for the shame he has brought on her, and his younger brother, who saw the Arthur Rambo character as a cry of protest from the banlieu, is upset at the sight of his brother crumbling under pressure.

What director Laurent Cantet wants to say about modern-day fame, the devaluing of celebrity by the ubiquity of the internet and the pressure of social media commentary in the form of “cancel culture” isn’t at all certain, as he sets his story’s pins up and fails to knock a single one down while his character writhes miserably under public exposure. Cantet seems to try to be reasonably calm about both problematic artists and their commentators, the angry tweets criticizing Karim appear on screen with as much regularity as the ones that got him into trouble and there’s no demonizing about the general public by showing people really relishing the opportunity to punish the young man (rather the emphasis on his own paranoia, such as when he gets on the subway and assumes that people are going to attack him despite the fact that no one even notices him).

It’s more likely that Cantet wants to portray our modern world as a huge folly in which we have endless modes of communication but can’t actually communicate with each other: the tweets, Karim tries to insist to everyone, were hateful and extreme on purpose and were meant ironically, but even those who understood them that way at the time now distance themselves from him thanks to the public fallout that cannot, by virtue of its size and weight, allow for any nuance.

It’s hard to imagine how one film could use one character’s experience to successfully portray the conquering of public opinion, so what the director does instead is have his protagonist insist that, good or bad, a person’s actions can’t be accurately judged out of context. What neither Karim nor Cantet seem to realize about the world we live in is that context hasn’t had any public meaning for a while, that ship has sailed now that communication is mainly done through technological devices, and as a result, the director comes off as yet another angry old man yelling at the kids about their cell phone addictions (joining Haneke in Happy End and Zvyagintsev in Loveless); in his inability to decide on an ending simply stops the story without one.

Toronto International Film Festival: 2021

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