Give Me Your Hand
aka Donne-moi la main
Reviewed in October 2009 / Click Here to Comment
Director: Pascal-Alex Vincent. Cast: Alexandre Carril, Victor Carril, Anaïs Demoustier, Samir Harrag, Katrin Sass, Elsa Malterre, Élodie Meurlargé, Patrick Hauthier, Maya Borker, Michel Grateau. Screenplay: Pascal-Alex Vincent, Martin Drouot, and Olivier Nicklaus.

Photo © 2009 Local Films/Strand Releasing
If the whole acting thing doesn't work out for Alexandre and Victor Carril, and the evidence of Give Me Your Hand doesn't foretell a slam-dunk career, they perhaps should contemplate second careers as living sculptures, and maybe even as disco balls. There are so many flat, chiseled, reflective planes on the Carril twins' faces that cowriter-director Pascal-Alex Vincent (who previously collaborated with these brothers on a short called Baby Shark) and cinematographer Alexis Kavyrchine never stop finding new angles from which to shoot and shadow them. Despite having given Antoine, played by Alexandre, an unexplained Harry Potter-ish scar above his left eye, if only to help us tell the brothers apart, the Carrils' visages alter so dramatically depending on the visual perspective, source of light, and time of day that they are truly hard to tell apart, at least until the movie uses (hetero, then more hetero, then homo) sex, and then (totally homo) panic, and then (garden-variety) separation to help distinguish them.

And really, something ought to rise up to distinguish them, or to distinuish anything from anything. Film festivals can thrive equally on strong movies and terrible ones, but the real problems are posed by vacuum-pockets like Give Me Your Hand, which seem to be spun from air, amassing neither detractors nor supporters. It's the movie I keep forgetting when I'm trying to list everything I have seen. I'm sure the filmmakers are proud of their work, and there's no reason for them not to be, except that it's almost hard to see the movie inside all the recycled beats and diaphanous construction, much less to feel its pulse.

Give Me Your Hand bespeaks a hazy, beatific drift in a spare narrative of two twin brothers who travel from France to Spain to witness the burial of the mother they never met, and neither the performances nor the script nor the direction ever attaches any stakes to that journey. The casting of twins builds in some inevitable if clichéd concern about the brothers' interdependency, and about what will become of them once they trade their frequent bouts of wrestling and pouting for a full-on parting of ways, though at least one of the brothers, and possibly both of them, seems not to have intended such a decisive breach. Whether Vincent is more interested in twinness or in siblinghood or in the inchoate yearnings of any motherless child, these roads all lead to similar shots of one brother tugging like a toddler on the back of his brother's identical black T-shirt as they walk down a country road, or of the two of them sleeping like lovers inside a giant concrete drainpipe on the back of a truck where they have covertly hitched a ride. Womb alert! Step away, everyone, from the lamely metaphorical birth canal!

More often, Antoine and Quentin thwack each other on the head, or scuffle on the ground, or churlishly interfere with each other's pastimes: one of them, I think Quentin, plays the Jew's harp (which it's hard to believe is still the preferred terminology), and the other draws animated figures in his spiral-bound pad, though I gathered later that both brothers like to sketch these anime-inspired tableaus, which perhaps explains the otherwise detachable animated sequence that opens the movie. Who knows? A lot of things happen in this movie just to ensure that something is happening. Like playing that harp, like watching un petit escargot slither up a twig (soulless Malickisms really are quite soulless), like an almost impossibly dopey interlude where the brothers boink two giggly girls who drive past in a convertible. Even their status as twins seems like a canny, possibly poignant attempt on Vincent's part to imply more thematic weight than his film really has, as though all twins are inherent repositories for some mystic bit of cosmic insight.

As for boinking: despite their later, bubble-headed discovery of matching His-n-His nymphets, Quentin looks rather aggrieved in a prior scene when his brother picks up a cute gas-station attendant (Anaïs Demoustier, a fond memory from Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf). It's difficult for two out of three people who are tramping through the woods to go all the way past third base without the other traveler feeling a little insulted, and the next morning, one of them is definitely giving the evil eye to the other one as he bathes himself in the river, giving his groin a remarkably thorough scrubbing. I remember feeling some confusion, though, about whether it was the previous evening's conquistador or the perturbed onlooker who was suddenly showing such bravado while he washed. Either way, it's nothing compared to what transpires when Quentin sneaks off at night with a skinny, brown-skinned farmhand that they've met while picking up some extra cash, Chris McCandless-style. Antoine fumes. I couldn't say whether this is because he dislikes the idea of his more introverted brother having sex with a man, or with a partner I presume to be an Arab, or because he is raging at the idea that his brother has kept something from him—though it isn't clear that Quentin "is" gay, or that he possesses the degree of self-knowledge that is pretty much a pre-requisite for keeping a "secret." (The festival blurb about "two twin brothers, one gay and one straight," thus turns out to be irritatingly reductive.) In any case, Antoine gets pissed, he humiliates Quentin pretty deeply, and then one of them elects, or so we assume, to show his brother just how much he doesn't need him anymore.

But back to the sexcapade with the farmhand. The real problem with the scene, beyond its Harlequin tone and its coy visuals and the evident discomfort of the actors, is its maladroit choreography. Quentin and Hakim skinny dip for just a bit in the freezing nighttime water (the better to avoid direct sunlight on their bits and bobs?), then boyishly splash each other with water as this film's characters are repeatedly wont to do, then sneak up the river for a distance that's hard to gauge because of several discontinuous cuts. They end up in some leafy meadow, ringing with inevitably Orientalizing music, where they stand, crouch, and touch in positions that look like something runic you might attempt at a beginner's yoga course in Stonehenge. And then, wouldn't you know, when Antoine wakes up the next morning, he happens to tramp all the way to this gay glade, however far that is from the farm barracks, and guess what he sees. Next, or so the editing would suggest, the brothers glower at each other for the rest of the day; Quentin never espied Antoine spying on him, but I guess twin telepathy can really connect a lot of silent dots. As gauzy as the film's "plot" and thematic conception already are, and as limited as his leading mannequins seem to be, Vincent's real problem is that he can't furnish any spatial or dramatic coherence to his individual scenes, so we're even less inclined to invest in what we're watching. That problem is writ largest in the fact that Give Me Your Hand never really captures any sense of concerted travel. With absolutely no pattern in the brother's movements from scene to scene, and with camera angles that often favor blank beauty (the boys' and Mother Earth's) over evoking any tensions or urgencies of purpose, you'd think they were floating all over France, rather than trekking to a very particular and intimately important destination.

This isn't to say that nothing memorable happens along the way. I wouldn't know what to say about the severe, creepy Sycorax who trundles home with one brother after he takes a nasty tumble and faints dead away. This character lives inside her very own bottle-green light filter, and though Vincent cannot resist one more chance to refract his palpable sensory delight in these boys and their bodies through an onscreen surrogate, there's at least an uncanny jolt to this sequence. Something similar is true of two truncated roadside encounters, one with a shifty-looking trucker and his grimly unspecified cargo, the other with a blond Spaniard who is openly toting a comatose man, or a diabetic man, or a dead man in the backseat of his vehicle. In one late-arriving scene that synthesizes Vincent's enthusiasm for fraternal fisticuffs and for boisterious wading, he finally proves that he can edit and choreograph a scene so that there is real tension in the cuts and between the bodies, each given a stronger than usual silhouette by their water-logged T-shirts, as slick and adherent as sealskins. This bout achieves a narrative unpredictability that persists through the end of the sequence, and if that's not quite the same as attaining dramatic heft, one has long ago stopped hoping for any of that in Give Me Your Hand. It's the kind of movie where spiritual toil literalizes itself as bruises and cuts on your face, and where pining for your lost brother is best carried off while sitting for no good reason in the middle of a small waterfall, and where a mundane passenger train has the grotty, desaturated look of a high-speed oil rig, just to reinforce our sense that the passengers are Very Sad. I half expected Emily Watson to sally past, encased in her hot pants, fishnets, and spiritual agonism, but of course that would never happen. Lars von Trier eats tentative, cotton-weight movies like Give Me Your Hand for breakfast, but even if you lack Lars's profound emotional gluttony, you could easily snack on this movie and find yourself hungry a half-hour later. Grade: C–

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