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For those familiar with Gerard Depardieu‘s stellar career, it would be fair to say he’s carved out a reputation as one of continental Europe’s finest-ever actors. The stage and screen veteran’s mere presence is one of the few things Robust has going for it, saving this comedy-drama (questionable claims in themselves) from obscurity.
Robuste – to give it its French title, and if you’re bothered about the extra letter – constantly meanders and never truly comes to life. It threatens to pick up around 30 minutes in, but in doing so flatters to deceive. All in all, a disappointing debut feature from filmmaker Constance Meyer.
Georges (Depardieu) an ageing, neurotic actor, strikes up an unlikely professional relationship with Aissa (Deborah Lukumuena), a female security officer who’s also trying to make her mark in the world of wrestling, and the pair become support units for one another as they try and find their respective places in life. Despite Depardieu’s effortless charisma, the two leads are always on an equal footing and this is testament to Lukumuena’s undoubted potential as a leading actress. It’s easy to see why she won Best Supporting Actress for Divines at the 2016 Cesar Awards, becoming the first black winner and youngest ever recipient in the process.
Where does Robust go awry? The storyline is missing half the time, the ending is a bit of a head-scratcher, plus there are some gild-edged opportunities missed. These lie within the two main characters. It would be OTT to say Depardieu is wasted – as already mentioned he delivers a typically commanding performance – but there could have been a bit more blood and thunder, not to mention humour, in the scenes where Georges is at odds with the world, and there’s never much in the way of tension on these occasions either. So we end up with large chunks of the film that are neither dramatic nor funny.
And then we come to Aissa. As a young female trying to make her way in what many would still perceive as male-dominated worlds, there are hints at her struggle, but it is never presented to such an extent that outright sympathy for the character is created. As with the setbacks that Georges is dealing with, the emotion isn’t quite raw enough and up there in proper painstaking detail. Finally, in a world where women are fighting against outdated social norms, surely the biggest missed open goal of the lot was not presenting a more vulnerable Aissa to a modern audience.
This is far from a French farce, but is also not something to be adored and unlikely to offer any escapism whatsoever. Robust is out now in UK cinemas.