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Carole and Jerome, young cousins pretending to be an engaged couple on a romantic trip, arrive to Odessa, beyond the so called Iron Curtain, but not to sight seeing. They bring presents and stories to the Jewish community, people who tried to immigrate to Israel and failed. They meet good and bad people, many of them relatively happy, but all of them desperate to change their lives. When Victor, a banned physician, asks the young couple for a favour, a sense of real danger emerges. It releases sleeping passions and desires, taking the story far beyond the mission in Odessa.
FRIENDS FROM FRANCE is an atmospheric timepiece. It is a love story that pretends to be a thriller, that pretends to be a love story. You’ll know what I mean. The feeling that the plot is lost in some parts of the film evaporates by the end, when you realise that it was incredibly focused from the opening credits.
For once here is a film about Russia done right. It is not a surprise that the film is shot in Odessa, not Moscow or St. Petersburg. A scary thought, but Odessa did not change that much since 1979.
It is interesting that for its exotic setting the main focus of the film are the cousins and their strange, almost incestuous, love affair. Carolle (Soko) is an idealist full of optimism, courageous and trusting, while Jerome is a careful one. He is suspicious and is scared of every shadow.
Soko is an impressive actor. It took me a long time to understand, but she had already made a great progress since her role in last years Augustine. In FRIENDS FROM FRANCE she is building her character brick by brick, revealing something special in the end.
The filmmakers do not take anyone’s side, showing some who is eager to escape Soviet reality as greedy and ready to do anything to get out. It also seems that most of the people who try to escape are simply looking for a better life and not freedom.
While Carolle and Jerome are absolutely free to pursue their passion, they make some strange choices as the story progresses, as if highlighting that they may not be as free as they think. Without giving any credit to the totalitarian regime, the film makes a suggestion that the real freedom is in our heads, and not some place far away.