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Snows of Kilimanjaro, The/Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro


Stars: Ariane Ascaride, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Gerard Meylan, Maryline Canto, Gregoir Leprince-Ringuet, Anais Demoustier, Adrien Jolivet, Robinson Stevenin, Karole Rocher, Julie-Marie Parmentier

Director: Robert Guediguian

If The Snows of Kilimanjaro makes you expect Hemingway or, rather less likely, Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward, forget it.

Here the title comes from a 1950s song by Pascal Dane featured in a charming, attractively cast French drama “inspired” we’re told “by Victor Hugo’s poem “Les Pauvres gens” and co-scripted by director Robert Guediguian and Jean-Louis Milesi.

When Marseilles dockworker and union rep Daroussin loses his job, he accepts retirement. He, and his wife of 30 years (Ascaride) are happy with their lives and with their children, grandchildren and close friends and are looking forward to the trip to Tanzania they have been given as a special anniversary present.

But utopia is destroyed when two armed, masked men break into their home, beat them up and proceed to steal everything they can, including the tickets to Tanzania. And when Daroussin accidentally identifies former dockworker Gregoire Leprince-Ringuet as one of the robbers, he informs the police, unknowing that Ascaride is already looking after the thief’s two younger brothers…

The director’s leftish politics (Daroussin snappishly corrects the statement that Tanzania “was colonized by the British” to remind everyone that it was the Germans who colonized what was, at the time, Tanganyika) imbue the narrative, but happily without diluting the fine performances by Darroussin and Ascaride that distinguish the drama.

The switch from happiness to misery catalyzed by the robbery is well handled and serious. However, the rather happy ending feels a tad imposed.

There are enjoyable comic touches, too, notably in Daroussin’s early performance, along with the dialogue and behaviour of the robbers’ two too-smart-for-their-ages sons Yann Loubatiere and Jean-Baptiste Fonck.

My favourite line; when, invited to an Indian restaurant for a meal, the invitee’s response is an immediate “They’ll feed me bison!”

Interestingly and rarely in the context of (predominantly) cynical contemporary cinema, here the majority of characters are essentially nice people.

Alan Frank

France 2011. UK Distributor: CineFile. Colour.
107 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 09 Sep 2012