Review: A Better Life (2011)


Director: Cédric Kahn | 112 minutes | drama | Actors: Guillaume Canet, Leïla Bekhti, Slimane Khettabi, Abraham Belaga, Nicolas Abraham, François Favrat, Brigitte Sy, Fayçal Safi, Annabelle Lengronne, Valérie Even, Daria Kapralska, Yann Andrieu, Atika Taoualit, Arnaud Ducret, Adou Khan, Serkan Oba, Alimata Camara, Fatsah Bouyahmed, Michèle Durepairt

What exactly is that, a better life? When is your life good? If you have a roof over your head, enough food and drink, are healthy and surrounded by the people you love, is that enough? Or is a well-paid job, in which you can use your talents, also a requirement for a pleasant life? Yann, the main character in Cédric Kahn’s “Une vie meilleure”, certainly has hope for a better life.

The man in his thirties (Guillaume Canet), who lives in Paris and grew up in foster families, works hard in a school canteen. He would prefer to work as a chef, but although he absolutely knows how to cook, he does not get the chance from any restaurant owner to prove himself. It is the eternal vicious circle: without experience no work and without work no experience … When Yann meets the beautiful waitress Nadia (Leïla Bekhti) at the umpteenth rejection, he falls head over heels for her. This negative experience still yields something positive, because the feeling is mutual and in no time Yann, Nadia from Lebanon and her nine-year-old fatherless son Slimane are inseparable. Yann is like the missing puzzle piece in the life of Nadia and Slimane and vice-versa.

When they discover a dilapidated building in a forest near a lake, the dream for their own restaurant suddenly becomes more obvious. Talks with a mortgage advisor follow and Yann recklessly shouts that they put in 40,000 euros of their own money so that the loan can be provided. Of course, Yann and Nadia do not have that amount, but that is solved by taking out three personal loans. Per person. And that is the beginning of the downward spiral in which the young lovers soon find themselves. The restaurant is not allowed to open after the inspection, because it does not meet the standards (a consequence of Yann’s assignment to the contractor to keep the renovation as cheap as possible) and therefore the expected income is not forthcoming. A social worker sees only one solution: selling, but Yann does not want to hear about it. And so he drifts further and further away from his dream and from his beloved …

Nadia leaves for Canada, because she can get a better paid job in the hospitality industry there. Slimane stays with Yann until Nadia has saved enough money for his plane ticket and can give him a good shelter. After a single Skype call and a letter, however, it remains eerily quiet from Montréal. In the meantime, Yann and Slimane have to make ends meet and that is becoming increasingly difficult.

Guillaume Canet is incredibly good at “Une vie meilleure”. And what “Une vie meilleure” is unbelievably good! Kahn almost flawlessly directs the script written by himself and Catherine Paillé. In beautifully filmed shots, he lets the characters of the characters come to fruition at a pleasant pace. When the butterflies flutter in the bellies of Yann and Nadia, the viewer feels it in his or her guts and when the despair is drawn on Yann’s face, the viewer would prefer to put their arms around him and comfort him or with him. to cry. Not for a moment does the film collapse and it is great that Kahn could easily have been dismissed if a social drama still manages to put on so much genuine tension. And the extremely realistic fragments from the life of Yann and Slimane after Nadia’s departure move you deeply.

Timing seems to be a big part of the strength of ‘Une vie meilleure’, because when better than now can we identify with a protagonist who is brimming with enterprise and ambition, but who is thwarted and punished in every way, so that he hope for progress up the social ladder is robbed? But whether this is actually the case will only become clear in a few years’ time: when the economic crisis has had its day, and most people have indeed achieved that good thing in the title. Will “Une vie meilleure” still be so emotional? You can bet your money on it. “Une vie meilleure” is a wonderful film.

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