( also know as: Maybe )
Directed by Cedric Klapisch
At a New Year's Eve party on December 31st, 1999, young Frenchwoman Lucie (Géraldine Pailhas) wants to kick off the new millenium by starting a family of her very own. Her boyfriend Arthur (Romain Duris), however, is not so sure he's ready to be a father. As he leaves Lucie to think the subject over, he finds himself crawling through a portal to the future. There, he is met by the son, Ako (Jean-Paul Belmondo), and other members of the extended family that he might one day have. They encourage him to return to the past and impregnate his girlfriend before they all cease to exist.
Director Cedric Klapisch's Peut-Etre sports an ingenious premise that uses time travel as a device to illustrate the importance of family. In Ako's era, the remains of today's world are almost entirely covered by sand, as if they were the Egyptian tombs of old. Travelling to the past is not unlike conducting an archaelogical dig, entering a building from the top and moving down floor by floor until its portal is found. In contrast, Arthur's trip to the future is accomplished by crawling upwards, a sign of progress and ambition, of reaching for the sun. But the post-apocalyptic world Arthur finds has little to do with modern notions of human aspiration. People have seemingly given up on the technology and urban expansion that we take for granted; the only use for the consumer products of our world comes when they can be adapted to suit these strange surroundings.
But don't feel too sorry for the people of this new Earth. Klapisch mines such clashes of past and future for humour, not pathos, creating anachronistic gags out of camels dressed up like scooters and street lights that mark roads by just barely poking their heads above the sand. Truthfully, the denizens of this seemingly desolate future appear to be getting along just fine. They've proven themselves to be adaptable and strong, pulling together in large family units to deal with the basic requirements of life. And when a day's work is done, they enjoy nothing more than blowing off steam at large parties, dancing to their own brand of pop music (performed in the film by retro novelty blues act Screamin' Jay Hawkins). If they are seemingly more fragile than the people of today, it is only because of how Arthur's ambivalence about having a family is affecting them. Playing off the likes of Back To The Future, photographs in Peut-Etre are unchangeable proof of possible moments in time; it is the people themselves that begin to fade away the moment that it looks like history might change.
Again, Klapisch applies amiable comedy to potentially dramatic territory. After his initial failure at convincing Arthur, Ako's young grandchildren take their turn by tying Arthur up and terrorizing him as only children can. They likely scare him off the idea of kids entirely rather than come anywhere near bringing him around to their way of thinking. The seeming age difference between Ako (played by 66 year old legend of French cinema Jean-Paul Belmondo) and his parents (both twenty-somethings) is also good for a few laughs, although it is here that Klapisch also goes for unexpected poignancy. When Belomondo follows Arthur back to the New Year's Eve party and finally meets Lucie, he can do nothing but cry at the sight of what, to him, is his long dead mother, fully alive and in the prime of her youth.
Where Klapsich falls down is in the construction of the narrative that holds these ideas and scenes in place. It's much too rambling and directionless, flitting from one desperate attempt to convince Arthur to another, enamored of movement without a sense that it is building to a purposeful conclusion. When Ako and his entire family crash the present-day New Year's Eve party, the ongoing destruction of the host apartment quickly becomes more tiresome than humourous. Such chaotic distractions are entirely unnecessary. In concentrating on the importance of family over the potential terror of times to come, Klapisch has fashioned a picture of an apocalyptic future that is entirely positive. It shows up the old 'it's cruel to bring kinds into such a horrible world' excuse for the shameful, self-serving lie that it is. What matters most are the emotional connections we create to our family and friends; they'll get us through whatever comes along.
Review Posted 2001-08-13
The review of Peut-Etre is courtsey of Don Marks, an avid film buff and occassional critic who enjoys writing movie reviews when he's not sitting in a darkened theatre.
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