“Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this,” sang Kelly Clarkson all the way to the top of the Billboard charts. She could have been singing about the lead character from Steve Suissa’s Le Grand Role: Maurice Kurtz (Stéphane Freiss), a struggling actor in his 30s who gets the part of a lifetime in an all-Yiddish screen adaptation of The Merchant of Venice. Maurice doesn’t scream Shylock, but director Rudolph Grishenberg (Peter Coyote) likes the way he reads the part, so much so he gives Maurice a big ol’ bear hug after the actor slam dunks Merchant’s famous “if you prick us” speech. But wait! Having secured le grand role, Maurice learns that Shylock is no longer his to chew on, now that a superstar actor’s schedule has freed up. No matter, because it is at precisely this moment that Maurice learns that his wife Perla (Bérénice Bejo) is dying of cancer, and rather than tell her that she lost the part to some Tom Cruise type, he and his friends use their ill acting skills and all sorts of Photoshop brouhaha to convince her otherwise. So this is le grand role! Touching, really, except the heart and political perspective of this Good Bye Lenin! facsimile is noticeably faded. That’s because Suissa and his cast seem equally disinterested with the schematic direction the story takes after Act I while the screenwriters (all four of them) attempt and fail to summon a compelling parallel between Merchant’s anti-Semitic baggage and the Jewish Maurice’s own struggles as an actor. Quickly, then, Le Grand Role becomes a shapeless mess of half-assed intentions and untapped resources. For example, is the hugely popular Grishenberg a stand-in for Spielberg and is his (unrealistic) all-Yiddish production of Merchant—in essence, an indie-slumming project for the consumerist director—an articulation of his Jewish guilt? If so, these are points the film seems unwilling to explore. Michael Radford would have been a more credible model for Grishenberg, hence justifying the audience-pandering references to Al Pacino, but when was the last time Radford poured out of a limo and was mobbed by a giddy throng of fans? Not only does the film’s first half strain to permit its second, the whole damn thing strains for credibility.
- First Run Features
- 89 min
- Steve Suissa
- Daniel Cohen, Daniel Goldenberg, Steve Suissa, Sophie Tepper
- Stéphane Freiss, Bérénice Bejo, Peter Coyote, François Berléand, Lionel Abelanski, Olivier Sitruk, Laurent Bateau, Mickaël Sabah, Rufus, Stéphan Guérin-Tillié, Valérie Benguigui, Danièle Denie, Smadi Wolfman
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