In Emmanuel Courcol‘s sophomore feature, the French director tells the story of an actor past his prime, who’s asked to give drama lessons to prisoners, but sees potential to go bigger and bolder and attempts to stage “Waiting for Godot.” Based on a true event, ‘The Big Hit‘ (aka ‘Un Triomphe‘) is set for a theatrical release around Christmas in France, and that’s exactly the kind of feelgood content people could use right now.

Etienne (Kad Merad – ‘Baron noir‘) used to be a successful stage director and actor, but after years of not landing a hit and divorcing his wife, he’s been struggling to find a proper job to pay the bills. When he gets asked to take over a theatre workshop in a prison, the prisoners seem a bit reluctant at first to actually act. They’re more interested in becoming stand up comedians, even though none of them has the courage or jokes to actually crack a smile. The prison warden actually just wants Etienne to set up a show for sponsors, so the prison can get the right funding for new projects. He sees the growing potential in these prisoners, and is able to convince this colourful group of individuals to rehearse Samuel Beckett’s play, “Waiting for Godot”.

There’s one condition for Etienne, he asks the warden and the judge if his group of actors can leave prison after the six months of rehearsal, to perform their play on an actual stage. Jordan (Pierre Lotin – ‘Conf Call‘), Kamel (Sofian Khammes – ‘Sexfish‘) and Patrick (David Ayala – ‘Angel Face‘) are the ones that struggle the most, since fellow prisoners start to mock them, making them feel insecure, or just find it difficult being told what to do. Etienne is willing to prove everyone wrong, but in doing so, isn’t he actually trying to prove everyone he’s still got it?!

Written by Khaled Amara (‘Jusqu’ici tout va bien‘), Emmanuel Courcol (‘In the Name of the Land‘) and Thierry de Carbonnières, ‘The Big Hit‘ tells a relatively simple story, that works best when all characters come together during the more talky bits in their acting class. It flows easily towards a somewhat satisfying finale in the middle of the film, to then go for a second ending at the end of the film that tries (and succeeds) in making you tear up.

All actors do a perfect job at making each other and the viewer laugh with some very heartfelt moments. I wouldn’t call ‘The Big Hit‘ a full-fledged comedy, but it leans more towards that than the drama that lingers over the heads of these inmates. The story never really cares about what these guys have done wrong to end up in prison, but does hint at it later on when the pressure to escape outside the prison walls becomes a bigger threat than Etienne ever considered possible.

The Big Hit‘ is just as entertaining as it is touching, taking us on an enjoyable ride that stays focused on the group itself, who’s moving performances make this a play worth watching.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

FIFF2020 Review – ‘Un Triomphe’

Reviewed online (also screening at Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur), October 8, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 105 min.

PRODUCTION: A Memento Films release of an Agat Films & Cie production. Producers: Marc Bordure, Robert Guédiguian.

CREW: Director: Emmanuel Courcol. Screenplay: Emmanuel Courcol. (adaptation/dialogue: Emmanuel Courcol, Thierry de Carbonnières)(collaboration: Khaled Amara) Editing: Guerric Catala. Cinematography: Yann Maritaud.

WITH: Kad Merad, David Ayala, Lamine Cissokho, Sofian Khammes, Pierre Lottin, Wabinlé Nabié, Alexandre Medvedev, Saïd Benchnafa, Marina Hands, Laurent Stocker.

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