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Little Chenier

Ensemble work worthy of a lazy-afternoon rental

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Little Chenier
Directed by Bethany Ashton
Radio London Films
Opens February 29, Quad Cinema

Little Chenier is a tiny, close-knit Cajun community where everyone is connected by blood, old friendships, or unforgiven betrayals. When Pemon (Fred Koehler), the mentally challenged younger brother of long-suffering Beaux (Johnathan Schaech), is accused of a horrible crime, the corrupt cop who's married to Beaux's ex-girlfriend (and still great love) is driven by his own jealousy to turn the town against the brothers. Abusive fathers, mysteriously vanished mothers, and a trove of slowly doled-out secrets flutter through the story, driving the plot to its unsurprising conclusion. What makes this movie worth a lazy-afternoon rental is the largely wonderful cast (in addition to Schaech, there's Clifton Collins and Chris Mulkey), whose solid ensemble work is marred only by Koehler's gratingly clichéd depiction of mental disability. Where writer-director Bethany Ashton really excels is in capturing the complex dynamics of small-town life—the familiar routines and lack of flash that can lead to boredom but can also be meditatively soothing, like the sense of satisfaction in an honest day's work, even when crushing poverty is a fact of life. The film also serves as a kind of memorial for the Louisiana location where it was shot; the area was completely destroyed by Hurricane Rita (which hit three weeks after Katrina) shortly after filming wrapped.

 
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