"This Road Leads to Romance"
Winner of the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, but just being released recently in the U.S., WESTERN is a French movie about two immigrant men looking for ultimate romance in the countryside. Ultimately, the movie lacks complete entertainment value and fails to fully explore the issues it raises or the observations it makes. It also never really questions the immoral actions and dialogue of its characters.
WESTERN is a 1997 French movie that won the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize. It has recently been released in America and will probably play mostly in art houses across the country. A tale of two foreigners seeking romance in the French countryside of Brittany, this movie is a little slow-moving for the average moviegoer.
WESTERN opens with a Spanish shoe salesman named Paco picking up a short and thin hitchhiker on a road in France. The hitchhiker convinces Paco that something might be wrong with his car’s engine. When Paco steps outside, the man steals the car.
A woman named Marinette takes the handsome Paco back to town. In a phone call, Paco’s boss fires him for losing the shoes he was selling, and Paco begins a romantic relationship with Marinette. He tells her he and his wife are separated for three weeks while they decide whether to stay together. Paco fails to find his car but he does find the thief who stole it, a Russian-Italian vagabond named Nino. Paco beats up Nino, but visits him in the hospital while he continues his affair with Marinette. Paco eventually confesses that he has no wife. “I wanted so much to sleep with you,” Paco tells Marinette. “Sometimes, you can more easily tell the truth with lies.” The next morning, Marinette proposes that they should split up for three weeks without seeing one another until they can decide whether to continue.
Nino invites Paco to travel around Brittany with him while Paco decides if he loves Marinette. Nino soon becomes jealous, however, of the easy way in which women seem to relate to Paco. During a wedding they attend, the drunken Nino complains angrily. “Girls aren’t capable of deep feelings,” he shouts. “They’re only interested in good-looking guys.” The next morning, Paco tries to lift Nino’s spirits. He tells him that he believes there is at least one woman in every town who would truly love Nino as he is. Paco proposes that they pretend to take an opinion poll of the women in the next town to find out which one would prefer a man like Nino, despite his looks.
The movie’s story picks up at this point. After a few engaging scenes of the two men taking their poll and meeting another French ÈmigrÈ from Africa, this sequence ends with a hilarious outcome. The ideal woman Nino finds using the poll ironically accuses him of lying when he says he likes her. “You’re obviously too good for me,” she says, ending the affair.
After further misadventures, Nino finds romance with a pretty blonde named Nathalie, an unmarried woman with five children by five different men. Now, it is Paco’s turn to be jealous, and the two men have an argument. Paco soon apologizes, but when he contacts Marinette about continuing their affair, she turns him down. The movie ends several years later with Nino and Paco at the dinner table with Nathalie and her children. Nathalie’s brood has grown by four or five, apparently because of Nino.
It is easy to see why this road movie may have won an award at Cannes. WESTERN is an engaging character study of the two men and the women they meet on their travels. The four main leads all give fine performances. Toward the end of the movie, Sacha Bourdo, who plays Nino, displays his gift for playing the guitar and singing. Some audience members will not like, however, the movie’s leisurely pace. Ultimately, the movie lacks complete entertainment value and fails to fully explore the issues it raises or the observations it appears to make about the human condition. Regrettably, WESTERN also contains some nudity, sexual situations and excessive foul language. It never really questions the immoral actions and dialogue of its characters. Truth and lies do not mix. Premarital sex is always destructive, not only in this life but also in the next.
(H, LLL, V, SS, NN, AA, D, M) Humanist worldview of two men looking for ultimate romance but having premarital sexual encounters; 25 obscenities & two profanities; long-distance shot of man beating up car thief; implied fornication & several scenes of couples in bed; upper male & female nudity & implied nudity of couples in bed; alcohol use & one scene where main character gets drunk & angry; smoking; and, lying & roadside urinating.