Past and present ferociously head butt each other in this 2003 French drama set in the hallways and courtyards of a Paris housing project. United in vulgarity, its teen protagonists are bonded by an unlikely academic endeavor—the mounting of a class play by the 18th-century dramatist Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, an altogether different kind of wordsmith whose verse must seem as foreign to them as the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre.
In the Marivaux comedy within the movie, the identity-swapping characters discover that they can't escape their class-determined destinies. The movie poses a parallel predicament: Can great literature lift these banlieue adolescents out of their dreary surroundings? The most enthusiastic taker is Lydia (an excellent Sara Forestier), a bossy beauty cast in the play's lead role. Her most faithful friend is Krimo (Osman Elkharraz), a monosyllabic underachiever who tentatively essays the role of Lydia's secret admirer both onstage and off. Yet for all her take-charge attitude onstage, Lydia finds herself on the defensive when it comes to everything else. (Her dilemma is embodied by the movie's French title, L'Esquive, a fencing term for dodging that foretells the feats of evasion she must perform whenever libidos flare.)
Unlike American counterparts Kids or Dangerous Minds, this highly intelligent comedy doesn't seek to shock or inspire, but merely documents teen moodiness in all its tedious unpredictability. Director Abdellatif Kechiche's DV camera indulges in tight close-ups that scrutinize every facial nuance with nonjudgmental fascination. Games is ultimately about the power of words, particularly their ability to fail us. Let down by language, these kids have every right to be angry and profane. Life isn't winsome drama after all, but a procession of petty and depressing moments that grow increasingly difficult to endure. Reading between the cuss words, the movie glimpses a sunny teen innocence just before it darkens irreversibly into adulthood. (NR)