Mon Garçon is so ordinary that I don’t understand how and why it was made. Are stars Guillaume Canet and Mélanie Laurent really popular enough to sell it?
We have seen this plot before: A child has disappeared, presumably kidnapped. The distraught parents are divorced, separated or still together but distant. The authorities aren’t doing enough to find the child, so the father (usually) takes things into his own hands and if that means electronic surveillance, threats, fisticuffs, breaking-and-entering, or whatever, he’s OK with that.
Formulas like that can and do work, but regarding Mon Garçon, all I can say is “meh.”
Julien (Guillaume Canet) and Marie (Mélanie Laurent) are indeed divorced. Their son, Mathys, (Lino Papa), was at a winter camp in the mountains, but he vanished during the night. Did he run away or was he taken? If the former, how long could he survive outdoors in the cold? If the latter, who took him, what do they want, etc.?
There are hints that some people or entities might have a grudge against Julien because of his previous work abroad. He tells the cops that he’s a “geologist” but who knows, really? Whatever he was doing, it kept him away from his wife and child and presumably led to the divorce. Now he’s feeling guilty for being an absent father.
The film is less than 90 minutes long, but it feels much longer because a ridiculous amount of time is devoted to scenes of Julien at the wheel as he drives all over tarnation checking out various clues. It’s like watching several very long car commercials. (Product placement?)
SPOILER: Sort of. Eventually Julien finds some bad guys. Very bad guys. But for me, there were too many boring bits before he found them.
After watching the film, I found some articles that said it was shot in only six days, in chronological order and almost in real time. Director Christian Carion says the film is a story about man who doesn’t know what he will find. Carion wanted Canet to discover things bit by bit, just as his character was doing, so he did not give Canet a script. The actors and crew members were not allowed to tell him anything about the plot, either. There was a lot of improvising. That explains a lot!
After watching the film, I found some articles that said it was shot in a mere six days, in chronological order and almost in real time.
I like to keep things positive around here, so I usually write about films I DO like, rather than spend any time writing about the ones I don’t like. On the other hand, film fans only have so much time and money to spend and there are so many other films at Fantasia that I would recommend over this one.
Mon Garçon (My Son)
Director: Christian Carion
Writer: Christian Carion
Cast: Guillaume Canet, Mélanie Laurent, Olivier de Benoist, Antoine Hamel, Mohamed Brikat, Lino Papa
From: France (shot in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France.)
Duration: 84 minutes
Even though I’m a longtime fan of Hong Kong movie star Andy Lau, I didn’t know that he has made more than 140 films. Busy, busy man!
The versatile actor with the killer cheekbones is equally at home as a handsome, well-dressed guy in frothy rom-coms, as a gangster or cop in crime stories, or as a swashbucking hero in period costume epics.
In Lost and Love (Shi Gu), Lau’s character, Lei Zekuan, is not glamourous, but he is heroic all the same, in his own quiet way.
For 15 years, farmer Lei his been searching for his son, Lei Da, who was abducted while Lei and his wife were working in their orchard. The boy was under his grandmother’s care; someone ran off with him when her back was turned for a moment.
While Lau’s character is sad and subdued, but he’s stubborn, too, determined to carry on and never give up. And he’s not so absorbed in his own quest that he can’t sympathize with others who are in the same boat.
Despite all the paranoia about “stranger danger,” children in North America are more likely to be abducted by a divorced or separated parent who disagrees with a child custody ruling. In China, however, many children are abducted by strangers and sold to carry on the family name, work in the family business, and, eventually, support their new “parents” when old age comes. China’s one child policy and its preference for boys makes child trafficking a lucrative business. In fact, the film’s press notes say that human trafficking (of women and children) is a $30 billion business in China.
And, according to an article on the web site Women of China, before a recent change in legislation, people who bought women or children were only “sentenced to a maximum of three years imprisonment, or detained or put under control for a short time. Most of the buyers only receive a verbal warning, if they did not abuse the women and children before the authorities found them.”
Lost and Love opens with a photo of a beautiful baby, then we see a distraught young woman in a busy intersection – “My child is missing, have you seen her?” she asks, while brandishing photos of her daughter; some do speak with her briefly (“Where did you lose her?” “You should try the Internet,”) while others just hurry by on their way to wherever.
Then the scene switches to Lau, as a weary-looking Lei; he’s one of many men standing on the open deck of a moving ferry. His face is dark from the sun and there are grey hairs in his beard and mustache. No fancy clothes here. He still has his famous sharp cheekbones, though. Lei slumps over his motorcycle, awkwardly trying to nap while his fellow passengers examine the large fabric banner attached to the bike, which shows a photo of his son as a baby, along with details of his disappearance.
One man tells Lei his quest is useless, and he should give up, another man that there’s no way a father could stop looking for his child. Nearby passengers get caught up in the argument and almost come to blows; Lei just waits for the ferry to dock so he can continue his search.
In an accident that is suggested rather than shown, Lei and his motorcycle sustain some damage. The bike is repaired by young Zeng Shuai (Jing Boran) who reveals that he was abducted himself. Of course, this is very convenient for the plot, but considering how widespread the problem is, it doesn’t seem like such a farfetched development.
Zeng yearns to see his parents again and wonders if they are looking for him, too. He’s distressed, because even in his dreams he can’t see his mother’s face; he can only remember her long braid, a bridge and a bamboo grove. He has practical concerns, too, as a stolen child, without an all-important ID card, he couldn’t continue his education, he can’t marry, he can’t even take a train.
Lei and Zeng hit the road together. China’s major cities might be drowning in air pollution, but there is still some astounding greenery to be seen in the countryside. While they travel, something like a father-son bond develops between them; it’s charming to watch, but they also bicker a lot, which tried my patience. That’s my only complaint about this film, really.
China is huge and so is its population. Trying to find one person seems like an impossible task, but that’s where the power of social media comes in. Lei and Zeng make frequent visits to Internet cafes where they exchange information with people all over China. A woman tells Lei about a teen who might be his son. Hundreds of photos of bridges are sent to Zeng. (The film’s credits mention a real-life organization called Baby Come Home, which has more than 100,000 volunteers across China. Read an English language story about it here, visit the Baby Come Home web site here.)
Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Sandra Ng make cameo appearances in Lost and Love as a police officer and a baby trafficker, respectively.
Lost and Love is written and directed by Peng Sanyuan. She’s a novelist who has also written TV shows, this is the first time she has directed a film.
Lost and Love is in Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles. It opens on Friday, March 20, 2015. In Montreal it will be shown at:
Cineplex Odeon Forum Cinemas, 2313 Ste. Catherine St. W. Montreal, QC H3H 1N2