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MOVIE REVIEW : Lively Coming-of-Age Story in ‘Mode’ World of Paris

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“A la Mode,” which marks a winning feature debut for French writer-director Remy Duchemin, is a warm, funny and inspired coming-of-age comedy set in an old Jewish quarter of Paris during the ‘60s. Our hero, bright, skinny 17-year-old Fausto (Ken Higelin), lives in a vast old orphanage, but his prospects are about to brighten considerably.

That’s because it’s time for Fausto to learn a trade, and he has the good fortune to be apprenticed to Mietek Breslauer (Jean Yanne), a stocky, apparently widowed Jewish tailor who takes great pride in his craft (and in driving a hard deal). Breslauer is a stern taskmaster but even more, he’s a loving father figure. Consequently, when Fausto declares that he’d rather design dresses for women, Breslauer is prepared to go along with him. “A la Mode” is especially effective in capturing the exhilaration of Fausto’s self-discovery; he really has the talent and skill to make it as a couturier , and his imagination coincides perfectly with the Mod styles of the ‘60s.

Undeniably, “A la Mode” is sentimental, but it’s so affectionate, so overflowing with good cheer that its sunny spirit is endearing. Fausto and his burly best pal Raymond (Francois Hautesserre), who’s a regular Le Petomane , engage in many teen-age shenanigans, and Fausto begins to discover true love in the form of the nearby mechanic’s daughter Tonie (Florence Darel), who’s as self-confident as she is beautiful, an ideal model for his creations.

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Duchemin, a veteran assistant director, and his co-writer Richard Morgieve eschew the usual sizable obstacles along Fausto’s path to success and happiness. They’re able to get away with this in part because they’ve dared to open the film on a dire note that has the effect of getting life’s unavoidable losses out of the way right at the start; its effect is to leave us with the feeling that Fausto is thereafter entitled to as smooth a path as possible.

Duchemin would seem really to care for actors, for they certainly glow under his direction. His young people couldn’t be more ingratiating, but for the longtime fan of French films, “A la Mode’s” key pleasure is in seeing the veteran Yanne get a change of pace. Having first come to the attention of American audiences in the title role of Claude Chabrol’s “This Man Must Die” (1969) and more recently seen as the world-weary, sinister police chief of Saigon in “Indochine,” Yanne is cast invariably in serious or malevolent roles. The proud, amusing Mietek allows Yanne to reveal that he’s as skilled at being comical as he is in playing heavies.

* MPAA rating: R, for a scene of sexuality and some language. Times guidelines: Except for some rough language and one scene of tasteful sexuality, the film is otherwise mild.

‘A la Mode’

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(In Fashion)

Jean Yanne: Mietek Breslauer

Ken Higelin: Fausto Barbarico

Francois Hautesserre: Raymond

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Florence Darel: Tonie Rosengarten

A Miramax release of a co-production of Lili Productions, BBD Productions and France 2 Cinema. Director Remy Duchemin. Producers Joel Faulon, Daniel Daujon. Screenplay Richard Morgieve, Duchemin. Cinematographer Yves Lafaye. Editor Mayline Marthieux. Costumes Annie Perier. Fausto’s costumes created by Philippe Guillotel. Music Denis Barbier. Production designers Fouillet et Wieber. Art director Gilber Druart. In French, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes.

* In limited release in Southern California.


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