The Lost Prince review – father-daughter storybook tale is full of heart | Film

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Few directors this century have suffered a more precipitous decline in their critical reputation than Michel Hazanavicius. It was less than a decade ago that – hot off his terrific OSS spy spoofs, and newly flush with Weinstein Company support – Hazanavicius carried The Artist to Oscar glory. However, both his immediate follow-up The Search and Godard biopic Redoubtable were met with near-universal shrugs. The Lost Prince, a family-targeted fantasy sees the film-maker returning to the basics, possibly drawing on his personal experience as a father and bedtime storyteller: it’s very sweet, and quietly corrective not just in centralising a black father-daughter pairing, but plugging them into the kind of storybook universe western movies once deemed off limits to performers of colour.

The plot turns on a feeling of being excluded. In a ramshackle tower block on the outskirts of Paris, we find mechanic Djibi (Omar Sy) bringing up Sofia (Sarah Gaye), a 12-year-old readying for her first weeks of big school. As she makes that transition – pulling away from her papa, in the direction of classmate Max (Néotis Ronzon) – Hazanavicius switches between reality and the kingdom Djibi conjures up before lights-out. This is a sprawling, American-style studio lot, presided over by Sy in tight, bright leggings as “The Prince”, a strutting, Fairbanks-like star of the nightly show, who finds himself locked out of his dressing room once Sofia declares that she’s too old for happily-ever-afters.

One could easily imagine a director swamping this story’s human aspects with charmless CGI, but Hazanavicius staffs his fantasyland with character actors and grounds the action in the ups-and-downs of Djibi’s cramped flat. Sy provides an affectionate portrayal of a big goofball who might well embarrass his offspring, while Gaye displays an unusual maturity and directness for a juvenile lead. The sense of a family affair is bolstered by the presence of Hazanavicius’ wife Bérénice Bejo as a helpful neighbour. The film is a little well-behaved – success has apparently deprived Hazanavicius of the mischief that made the OSS films such a riot – but there’s imagination, heart and empathy here. Don’t close the book on this director yet.

Source: The Guardian
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