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‘All That Divides Us’ (‘Tout nous separe’): Film Review

Catherine Deneuve and Diane Kruger play a mother and daughter caught in spiral of violence in writer-director Thierry Klifa’s new feature.

A belabored social thriller where two rich femmes have their lives upended by a pair of down-and-out street thugs, All That Divides Us (Tout nous separe) is one of those movies that often seems too far-fetched to be for real.

And even in its far-fetchedness, there’s precious little that convinces in director Thierry Klifa’s latest collaboration with Catherine Deneuve, who stars as a mother willing to do anything — whether hiding a body, wielding a shotgun or hanging with local gangstas — to save her strung-out daughter from prison. The fact that said daughter is played by Diane Kruger, slumming it in ways that work a lot less well than for her award-winning turn in Fatih Akin’s In the Fade, is another element that makes this downbeat French head-scratcher a tough sell outside of Gaul.

Klifa’s previous films (His Mother’s Eyes, Family Hero, both featuring Deneuve) brought several disparate characters together in a single location, or else via crosscutting and plot mechanics. Here, the director, working with co-writer Cedric Anger (The Counsel), uses drugs and murder to connect the seemingly un-connectable: a matronly boss, Louise (Deneuve), her manic druggie daughter, Julia (Kruger), and the violent hood rats Rodolphe (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and Ben (rapper Nekfeu).

The way it all happens is that Rodolphe is both dating and supplying painkillers to Julia, who was severely injured in an accident that has left her limping and covered with scars. Meanwhile, Rodolphe, Ben and their third amigo, Karim (Sebastien Houbani) — three childhood friends who live in a seaside housing project in southwest France — are on the run from a local drug kingpin, Stephane (Virgile Branly), to whom they need to pay back $35,000 before he slices them to pieces.

If these people’s lives weren’t already tough enough, things take a turn for the worse when Julia accidentally kills Rodolphe with a tire iron during one of their dates. The guy kind of deserved it — during their final bout of fighting and fornicating, he charmingly tells her: “I only fuck you because it’s good for my prostate” — but the result is that Louise has to step in and help her daughter bury the evidence. The plan works until Ben figures out what happened, after which he tries to blackmail Louise for the money to pay back Stephane, who decides to rob them all. In the meantime, Louise and Ben form an unlikely bond that’s meant to elevate the action in some sort of meaningful way, with the bourgeoisie and the banlieue joining forces against evil.

In French, there’s an expression for something contrived that literally translates to “pulled by the hair” (tiré par les cheveux”). Judged on that scale, All That Divides Us is like one of those cartoons of a caveman beating a woman with a club and then dragging her off by her long mane. There’s practically nothing in this movie that rings true, if it’s not for a certain grittiness in the depictions of Ben and his buddies, with rapper Nekfeu (making his screen debut) and regular bad boy Duvauchelle (White Material) fitfully playing two dumb, messed-up street kids who otherwise mean well.

But it’s hard to believe much of anything else happening here, and even the usually indulgent French audience let out a few cackles during a screening caught in Paris, with the scene where Deneuve grabs a shotgun off the mantelpiece getting the biggest response. Klifa is perhaps trying to say something about how a society divided by class can be united in a struggle for survival, but he could have found better ways to do so than with a bogus film noir that never feels remotely credible. At its best, All That Divides Us gives Deneuve and Kruger the opportunity to play out of type, and although the result is far from convincing and much closer to laughable, at least they tried.  

Production companies: Les Films du Kiosque, Nolita Cinema
Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Diane Kruger, Nekfeu, Nicolas Duvauchelle, Sebastien Houbani
Director: Thierry Klifa
Screenwriters: Cedric Anger, Thierry Klifa
Producers: Francois Kraus, Denis Pineau-Valencienne, Maxime Delauney, Romain Rousseau
Director of photography: Julien Hirsch
Production designer: Mathieu Menut
Costume designers: Jurgen Doering, Laure Villemer
Editor: Thomas Marchand
Composer: Gustavo Santaolalla
Casting directors: Sarah Teper, Leila Fournier
Sales: TF1 Studio

In French
98 minutes

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