A vital presence in French cinema since the early 1970s, Jean-François Stevenin gives the impression of being an untamed, anarchic talent blessed with considerable energy and imagination. His huge body of work as an actor includes films for François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Luc Beraud, and Patrice Leconte. Stevenin is also a director of note, and his impressive debut Le passe-montagnewon the International Critics’ prize at Venice in 1978. His new film Mischka was one of the hits of the Rotterdam Film Festival and has gone on to develop a large cult following in France.
When we first meet Mischka (the inimitable Jean-Paul Roussillon, who played Michel Serrault’s farmer friend in The Girl from Paris), he is in his dressing gown and emerging from the boot of a car. He has been confined there by his family, who are heading South on their summer holidays. At a stopping point on the motorway, Mischka goes missing. He wanders around aimlessly before ending up in a scary old people’s home, where he’s befriended by a male nurse (Stevenin) who suggests that the old man should play his father. The pair hit the road on a madcap adventure in which they’re joined by a runaway teenager and a rock musician. They even get to meet real rock star Johnny Halliday on their travels. Mischka is not just a comedy about eccentrics. Much of it is very funny, but Stevenin can switch from off-the-wall goofing to serious drama in the blink of an eye. The film has a point to make about the differences between the family we are born with and the friends we choose. In terms of narrative cohesion it’s all over the place, but when Steveinin’s ideas and his work with his actors and the camera come together, the results are often electrifying.
France, 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 120 mins.

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