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Let My People Go! Is Silly and Sweet but Also Paper-Thin

With his fluttery falsetto and haughty gaze, Ruben, the flamboyantly gay, ambivalently Jewish 20-something hero of the new French comedy Let My People Go!, is the kind of big-screen character usually relegated to the sidelines. It's refreshing to see him front and center, gamely played by Nicolas Maury, gangly limbs flailing as he simmers and seethes melodramatically. (His fed-up Finnish boyfriend accuses him of behaving like a French actress.) Too bad the movie gives him so little to work with. Covering a few days in Ruben's life as he visits his family in Paris for Passover, Mikael Buch's debut feature is silly and sweet but also paper-thin and mostly unimaginative: a series of cartoonish vignettes during which a generically eccentric Jewish clan confronts movie-family problems (adultery, divorce, health scares, tense sibling relationships). Stereotypes about money, love of Israel, and pushy mothers abound. The matriarch here is played by Pedro Almodóvar muse Carmen Maura, a casting choice echoed in Buch's strained attempts to emulate the chaos and color of the Spanish director's early work. Maura gets the one inspired bit, a dream sequence in which she stars in a TV ad for a spray that turns goyim into Jews, full beard and long payos included. Cowritten by talented — and uneven — filmmaker Christophe Honoré, Let My People Go! offers little else to savor; there are lots of cutesy stylistic touches (iris shots, deadpan framing) but few insights into how the protagonist's various identities (queer, Jewish, French) clash and come together.
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Jon Frosch

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