Robuste — Alliance Française French Film Festival 2023

Review by John P. Harvey.

Georges (Gérard Depardieu), a long-time, and now entitled and opinionated, movie star, is avoiding the work necessary for his forthcoming role.  Absenting himself suddenly before meetings in his own home, refusing classes in specialist techniques for his starring role, and casually abusing all comers, he has become tough to work with.  He has also neglected his health, choosing to indulge in food and drink, and expects others to manage his self-induced health crises whenever they arise — usually in the middle of the night.

When his new security person, Aïssa (Déborah Lukumuena), turns out to be a strong female wrestler, her mere close attention to his needs gently challenges Georges’s self-involvement.  Will it draw him back out into the world of others, or will he continue to reject all care and concern?  And will he even manage his forthcoming role? 

As do many French films, Robuste explores the effects of people in one another’s lives for a limited time.  In this case, director Constance Meyer, in her feature-film debut, has provided Depardieu with an amusing opportunity to play an actor preparing for a role similar to some roles that Depardieu himself is famous for playing.  What makes the film worth watching is not any urgency or pressing question as to outcome but rather the beautiful way in which the characters depict many-layered relationships.  Depardieu unsurprisingly depicts the cranky actor with masterful subtlety; there are moments when the expression on his face alters without seeming to move a single muscle, and he makes it difficult to believe that he is not the morose actor he plays.  But it is Lukumuena who surprises us with comparable subtlety in communicating her emotions; she’s a star in the ascendant.

Despite Depardieu’s character’s attitudes, the clashes and consonances between the two leads offer a journey of gentle surprises that’s a pleasure to watch unfold.

Screening at Palace cinemas.

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