Testosterone-driven frenzies fuel the plot of Skin of Man, Heart of Beast, French director Hélène Angel’s sensitive and crystalline debut feature, in which male violence is filtered through the consciousness of two young girls. Moody adolescent Christelle (Virginie Guinand) and her cherubic five-year-old sister, Aurelie (Cathy Hinderchied), are spending an idyllic summer with their grandmother in the south of France after their parents’ separation. Suddenly, their burly, womanizing father, Frankie (Serge Riaboukine), arrives for a vacation, following his suspension from the police force. This family reunion (minus the girls’ mother) is completed when Frankie’s younger brother Coco (Bernard Blancan) turns up after a 15-year absence, which he claims to have spent in the French Foreign Legion. Their handsome baby brother Alex (Pascal Cervo) and their mother (Maaike Jansen) only half believe him, but they welcome him anyway, looking beyond his strange, blank eyes and uneasy silences.
“Aren’t we all the same,” asks Christelle (the eerily precocious narrator), “just waiting for someone to come back from the past and to redeem it?” Director Angel deftly conjures up intimations of the tragedy to come in scenes of ordinary rural gatherings. French masculinity, she suggests, is permanently wounded by the memory of bloody conflicts in Algeria and Indochina; fathers have passed these traumas on to their sons, whose rare shows of affection are frequently tinged with brutality. The storyline, in this regard, sometimes veers into melodrama; a subplot concerning Alex’s involvement in the white-slave trade is particularly lurid. But the director retains a light touch in the character of Aurelie, whose combination of innocence and knowing is magical.
Bobby G. has a scar on his face but grace in his heart in the first film by John-Luke Montias. The director wrote and stars in Bobby G. Can’t Swim, a mash note to the Hell’s Kitchen of the Giuliani era—one of Manhattan’s final bulwarks against gentrification, with its ratty dives, deserted warehouses, and street corners dotted with assorted lowlifes. Montias plays the live wire Bobby G., a small-time coke dealer with a pretty mug, who lives with his girlfriend, Lucy (Susan Mitchell), an aging hooker. Tired of sleeping on beds with no sheets, Lucy buys a one-way ticket to Puerto Rico to see her mother, and asks Bobby to join her. But just then, he happens upon a chance to make it big. Of course, everything goes terribly wrong.
Montias’s script lacks surprises; the role of Lucy is little more than a compendium of clichéd feminine longings for a “normal” life with children, and Bobby’s charitable impulses in his final hours appear forced. Still, the minor figures surrounding him—from teenage Puerto Rican beauties to a mobster’s middle-aged groupie—form a gritty urban mosaic, and Bobby’s wanton energy is utterly convincing.