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My Piece of the Pie (A Movie Review)

Updated: 4 hours ago


Starring Karin Viard, Gilles Lellouche, Audrey Lamy, Jean-Pierre Martins, Zinedine Soualem, Raphaële Godin, Flavie Bataillie, Lunis Sakji, Fred Ulysse, Kevin Bishop, Marine Vacth, Tim Piggot-Smith, Philippe Lefebvre, Juliette Navis Bardin, Camille Zouaoui and Adrienne Vereecke.

Screenplay by Cédric Klapisch.

Directed by Cédric Klapisch.

Distributed by Sundance Selects. 109 minutes. Not Rated.

With the Occupy movement spreading across the globe, the time is very right for the latest from French director Cédric Klapisch (L’auberge Espagnole, Paris, While the Cat’s Away). My Piece of the Pie (Ma Part du Gateau) shows the collision of the 99% with the 1% in surprising and fascinating ways.

Much like Klapisch’s earlier films, My Piece of the Pie swerves recklessly between light comedy, pointed social satire and more downbeat drama. However, with the exception of a slightly misjudged and uncharacteristic act by the main character which leads to the vaguely ambiguous ending, the story mostly juggles the moods and tempos adroitly.

My Piece of the Pie takes a look at the (temporary) meeting of the minds between one of the elites and one of the proletariats.

Stephan (Gilles Lellouche) is one of the robber barons, so to speak. He is a young (mid-30s) hot-shot power broker with a take-no-prisoners attitude when it comes to business and life. In fact, early scenes with Stephan make him so off-putting that it is a little difficult to come to like him later. We are shown him closing a huge factory in the south of France, throwing thousands of employees out into poverty, just because it improves his bottom line. Then he celebrates by charming a young model with a trip to Venice and then essentially forcing himself upon her, even after she says she was not interested in him in that way. Stephan is used to having things go his way and refuses to entertain any other options.

On the other side of the economic scale is France, a 42-year-old mother of three played by Karin Viard. (And, yes, it is a tiny bit heavy-handed that her name is France.) France was one of the employees in the factory that was closed, which led her to an unsuccessful suicide attempt. After she survives, she is desperate for work, and when she can find nothing in her native Dunkirk, she decides to take an opportunity that comes up to become a maid in Paris. Of course, it means that she has to leave her three daughters with her sister, but she hopes to make enough money to keep them all safe.

The job that France is given is working for Stephan, who has also moved to Paris on a promotion from his ransacking of the Dunkirk factory. Neither of them realizes how they have played a part in each other’s lives – which seems a tiny bit coincidental, but we’ll allow the film its setup. Stephan doesn’t know she is the worker he saw on the news who tried to kill herself. France does not know that he is one of the men most responsible for throwing herself and her friends on the street.

You would think this would make for an explosive potential conflict, but it is at this point that the film downshifts into an odd-couple friendship mode.

France helps Stephan learn how to be a nicer and more caring man. Stephan grows to depend on France for basic life lessons and as a confidant. When Stephan’s young son is left at the apartment by his ex, France soon becomes a surrogate mommy for the little boy – and is paid very well for her time. Stephan admits to her how much he hates the cutthroat assholes he works with and loves the fact that France will stand up to him when he, too, acts the jerk. They even seem to be moving towards a possible romantic entanglement.

Then, when everything seems to be going in this softer direction the initial conflict reignites when France learns of Stephan’s true part in the failure of her hometown. He tells her lightheartedly of his part in the closing, seeming just a bit too insensitive to her reaction to be totally realistic. The man may be rather heartless, but he is not stupid.

This bit of knowledge about her boss (plus another, more personal slight) causes France to make a foolish, rash decision which sets the story reeling back into deathly serious territory. Honestly, I’m not sure I totally buy the fact that France would do what she does – even if it were done with good intentions, which it seems to have been.

This leads to a climax back in Dunkirk, where Stephan is supposed to see what his cavalier ideas about money has done to the locals. However, things spiral out of control, until…

The story just ends. I get that Klapisch was trying to be ambiguous and show that there can be no truly graceful ending to this kind of conflict. However, he leaves us to wonder what will happen to both of his lead characters, though the prevailing winds were not looking very good for either side.

However, perhaps Klapisch is correct in leaving the final destinies of his characters up to the audiences’ imaginations. This sense of uncertainty lends the film a bit of ugly truth that no pat ending could ever acquire and makes the movie more difficult to shake off when it is through. My Piece of the Pie, though sometimes flawed, is an intriguing look at this unsure and explosive period in history.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: December 7, 2011.


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