I remember the civil tremors that rocked
Abdel Kechiche’s L’Esquive, shot almost prophetically in 2003, paints the grim picture in one of the disenfranchised housing projects where many of the minorities have been relegated. This film depicts life at the periphery, the brutalized conditions of the ghettos arising from state neglect and public paranoia. In French, esquive is a sporting term that refers to a sidestep. In Kechiche’s film, it is about Muslim teenagers learning to navigate the everyday dangers of the banlieues. Shot properly in cinema-verite style – in the manner of Raymond Depardon and Frederick Wiseman – L’Esquive is a documentary of adversity and resiliency disguised as fiction, capturing graphically the pent-up and misplaced energies of its young subjects. It is equally made memorable and resonant by the naturalistic performances of its ensemble cast: all of them seem to be non-professionals playing their own lives.
At the film’s center is the budding young love between Krimo, an inarticulate hood, and
What L’Esquive captures instead is the tough-as-grits explosion of language. At every turn, there is the prospect of heated altercation. This is Kechiche’s sense of proxy violence, his fiery brand of pacifism and diplomacy: rage and anger transmuted and expressed in words. Krimo’s father is behind bars and is only mentioned in passing. We know that Krimo is in a gang, too, but all we witness of him is his brooding ways, his often funny inability to articulate his thoughts and feelings. Much of the violence happens offscreen: Kechiche insulates us from its easy spectacle. It is enough to pit his characters in the dialectics of the streets for us to get a sense of their unsettled, unnerving lives. They snarl like lions; their voices growl; and their idiom is not fit for the faint-hearted. And yet they are not afraid to laugh and cry, to express their fears and their hesitations.
The best that L’Esquive offers to the viewer is the value of sublimation. Characters like
L’Esquive won 4 Cesar Awards in 2005, including one for Best Film.