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HOTEL HARABATI

Director: BRICE CAUVIN

FRANCE • 2006 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • 95 MIN


THOSE WHO FIND MICHAEL HANEKE’S FILMS TOO OVER-DETERMINED SHOULD RESPOND TO BRICE CAUVIN’S INSIDIOUSLY UNSETTLING PORTRAIT OF BOURGEOIS DISINTEGRATION WHICH REFUSES TO GIVE UP ITS SECRETS TOO EASILY.
For cash-strapped Parisian couple Philippe and Marion (Laurent Lucas and Helene Fillieres), the holidays are about to begin. The kids have just been dropped off with grandma, but at the train station something unexpected occurs. Marion exchanges a smile with a distinguished looking Middle Eastern gentleman who’s from a place he describes as ‘Venice without the tourists’. When he leaves his leather bag behind, the couple are tempted to take it home, but discovering it’s full of unidentifiable bank-notes unnerves them enough to cancel their own impending Venice trip. Soon, their whole lives seem to be in meltdown, without them quite understanding why. Could the luggage tag inscribed with ‘Hotel Harabati’ hold some answers for them? What is their problem? Well, the intrigue of the film is in trying to work that out, since Chauvin’s reserved direction is much too elegant to do anything as crass as spell it out for us. True, there’s a sense of post-9/11 malaise here, and a definite sense of rejecting the rat-run of middle-class Parisian routine (cf. ever-radiant Anouk Aimee’s patronising grande dame), but it’s definitely worth paying attention to the early railway station scene. Is that smile which passes between Marion and the foreigner an expression of longing for another life, or even a seismic moment of disjuncture in a previously happy marriage? Either way, Lucas’ subsequent performance, like the film itself, is a masterclass in bewilderment.—Trevor Johnston.

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