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One night in a dark Parisian street, a typical bourgeois French couple, Helene and Paul (Catherine Fort & Vincent Lindon), witness the brutal assault on a young Algerian prostitute by men who turn out to be her pimps. Paul refuses to help her and they drive on. Helen’s conscience drives her to find the girl, Malika (Rachida Bakni) in a hospital and remains with and nurtures her through a coma until she regains her health. Their friendship grows and Malika retraces her traumatic young life as one of the suppressed daughters of an Islamic family, who has escaped but ends up an addict and a prostitute under the control of an organised gang. The women find the strength to turn the tables on the gang and Helene’s husband, at the same time rescuing Malika’s sister (Hajar Nourma) from the fate that awaited Malika.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Produced by Alain Sarde, one of France’s most prolific and high profile producers, Chaos is Coline Serreau’s anger-driven drama aimed squarely at the oppression of women in many Islamic families, even in Western countries. The young woman at the centre of the story is Algerian but living with her expat family in Paris, and her story is a typical case of a teenager sold to an older man in Algeria as a bride, by a father whose concern is the cash dowry. But Serreu begins the story in the middle, when Malika is beaten by her pimps in the street. The couple driving past refuse to open the car to help her, but the wife is driven back to the spot be her conscience to find and help the girl, thereby setting off both the backstory and the ongoing drama. This is Thelma and Louise meets a tame version of Baise-Moi, and certainly has something to say. Serreau makes no bones about the cultural black spot on Islamic male behaviour towards women, and she also has a swipe at men in general, bourgeois or otherwise. The approach is a bit too obvious and her points a tad too manipulative; she contrasts the arrogant, self centered, weak, useless, bourgeois (or Islamic) men, with the compassionate, nurturing, strong, capable (and justice-seeking) women. Still, she holds our interest and our attention as she moves between the two sides of the plot, keeping the clarity of the story as well as the characters well in hand. The title is an oblique reference to the power of human nature to regenerate – to bring order out of chaos. It’s a satisfying film in emotional terms, and mentally stimulating without being pretentious in any way. Malika, apart from bouts of ham during her stretch of physical recuperation, is a splendid newcomer with exotic looks and flashing eyes, carrying the film’s central drama with ease.

Review by Jake Wilson:
This muddled comedy-drama from French writer-director Coline Serreau is yet another visually dead entry in the digital video stakes. It’s also obvious from the first scene that Serreau is more concerned with easy point-scoring than with making her characters believable – Paul’s nonchalance as he drives away from the unconscious Malika smacks of Hollywood villainy more than realistic indifference. Similarly, there’s no indication of why a sensitive middle-class woman like Marie would endure so many years of bullying by a callous husband; since this initial situation has no reality, their undermotivated break-up carries no emotional weight. It’s all downhill from here, as the convoluted plot morphs into a feel-good revenge fantasy at odds with the relative naturalism of most of the performances (aside from the hammy Rachida Brakni). As a feminist Serreau is no more radical than Oprah Winfrey, and the parallel between different types of misogyny is clumsily articulated – even granting the polemical stance against sexist cultural traditions like arranged marriages, coming from an outsider the portrayal of Islamic family life as an oppressive hell is all too glib and crude. The purely farcical side of the film is the most effective: with his roving eyes and dry intelligence, Vincent Cassel finds the humour in his character’s weary cynicism and shows a special flair for being humiliated (his look of resignation is priceless). But on the whole this is not recommended, except as an easy confirmation of liberal prejudices.

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CAST: Catherine Frot, Vincent Lindon, Rachida Brakni, Line Renaud, Aurélien Wiik, Ivan Franek, Chloé Lambert

PRODUCER: Alain Sarde

DIRECTOR: Coline Serreau

SCRIPT: Coline Serreau

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jean-François Robin

EDITOR: Catherine Renault

MUSIC: Aaron Grain, Ludovic Navarre

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Michèle Abbé-Vannier

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 10, 2003 (Sydney/Melbourne)

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