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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

THE FIRST MAN Review - Open Roads: New Italian CInema 2013

01 Distribution
2013, 103 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

The First Man, adapted from Albert Camus' unfinished novel, is a film that has some sections of incredible power, but is ultimately less than the sum of its parts.  It follows the story of a man who wants to find out more about his long-dead father in 1950s Algeria.  This is only a part of the story, as it wanders off in all directions.

This film evokes its period and place beautifully.  I felt the sun, the sand, the dry heat, and the dust.  The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, as is the score, which is the most powerful I've heard in ages.  Each shot is immaculately framed and is reminiscent of that of Fellini's Amarcord.  In many ways the two films are similar, as both take place in a small town during a period of revolution.  While the visuals in The First Man are certainly stunning, they frequently take the place of the story, and this is where the film runs into trouble.  The plot is so slim for The First Man that it is very hard to care about anything.  In addition, the film ends right where it could have gotten interesting.

In 1950s Algeria, there was serious tension, and the revolution was about to begin (for a great film about the revolution, watch Gillo Pontecorvo's The Battle of Algiers).  Very little of this tension is felt in this film.  There is too little focus on what is supposedly the main plot and too little focuse on the political climate of the period making for an empty and bland piece of filmmaking.

However, the acting is all superb, and some scenes are truly extraordinary.  In one moving scene, a father waits outside a hut for his child to be born, his anxiety and underlying giddy excitement apparent. Upon entering the hut, he sees his son for the first time.  His eyes light up and a new spark of youth shines in him.  There are unforgettable scenes like this scattered throughout the film, but ultimately it fails due to a lack of cohesiveness and content.

Overall, The First Man is a noble failure.  It is not a bad film by any stretch and just misses greatness.  However, its flaws are too large.  Had it contained more of a cohesive story and more scenes of immense power, it might have been a masterpiece.  But alas, it didn't and isn't.


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