While Curzon is certainly the sexiest of all the independent distributors in the UK and, more importantly, has more financial muscle (largely due to their cinema chain), the distribution provided by New Wave Films has proven to be priceless since they formed in 2008. The company have consistently purchased the rights to some of the most exciting foreign language films on the market, bringing us the work of Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Abbas Kiarostami, to name but a few. In comparison, the films of Moroccan-French writer-director Philippe Faucon are lesser known but they have been equally as important, and his new release, Amin, maintains the small but intimate tone established throughout his career to date.
Faucon typically centres his stories on the lives of both first and second generation migrant family members living in modern day France. His films have largely been informed by his own upbringing and experiences, and here he looks at families who are separated by necessity. Amin (Moustapha Mbengue) is seen working in France to earn money to send back to his wife, Aisha (Mareme N’Diaye), and their three children back home in Senegal.
When we meet him he has been grafting on construction sites for around nine years for low pay. In the evening, he returns home to a modest single room in a hostel shared with fellow workers who have come from around the world in search of money. On weekends Amin returns home to Aisha, but the arrangement is becoming increasingly strained, or as Amin says, they are slowly falling out of sync with each other. Faucon also introduces a couple of other faces, like Moroccan co-worker Abdelaziz (Noureddine Benallouche), whose two daughters are exasperated by the way his employers have treated him after so many years.
The separation of families like Amin’s is depressingly common, yet oddly it’s a situation rarely addressed onscreen. Faucon tells the story from both sides, giving voice to Aisha’s concerns about their marriage and the force of personality she has to demonstrate to keep her husband’s controlling brother at bay. As is the norm with Faucon’s films, he uses first-time actors alongside professionals to ground it further in reality, with Mbengue cast in a role similar to one he has experienced in his own life. Renowned French actress Emmanuelle Devos also stars as divorced nurse Gabrielle, who becomes romantically involved with Amin while he works on her property.
Mbengue makes for a compelling physical presence but his performance is a little too understated to carry Amin’s story home. He looks comfortable in front of the camera but is difficult to read, even when his guard drops and he returns back home to Senegal. Amin’s relationship with Gabrielle arrives like a bolt out of the blue; one minute he is digging up her garden, the next they’re lying in bed together. Rightfully so, the film primarily focusses on Amin’s marital relationship, but Devos remains underused and the fixation on Gabrielle’s issues with her daughter and bitter ex-husband never offers much room to establish her own personality.
The issue seems to be Faucon extends the narrative too far within the tight confines of a small story. Another example can be seen in his sporadic returns to Abdelaziz’s life, whose inclusion tells another side of the migrant experience - although his tragic arc never naturally fits in with the film as a whole. While the various threads never quite coalesce, it is always intriguing to attempt to understand the fresh perspectives offered by Faucon. There is genuine affection shown towards his characters and that is no different here, and while Amin is not his strongest film to date, there is enough here to welcome newcomers and please existing fans of his work.
Amin opens in UK cinemas on June 21.