There’s nothing inherently wrong with the fact that Top Floor, Left Wing makes light of a hostage situation involving Muslim terrorists. What’s wrong with writer-director Angelo Cianci’s half-leaden, half-hysterical (and not in a funny way) farce is the way he takes the wrong things seriously and pokes fun of nothing worth laughing at. Unlike Four Lions, Chris Morris’s empathetic and genuinely funny comedy about suicide bombers, Top Floor, Left Wing pivots around the serious notion that there’s such a thing as defensible or simply respectable terrorist actions while laughing at the concept that the terrorist you don’t know is often more dangerous than the one you do. It’s a loud, incoherent, and completely unenlightening film about the way we live now, almost a full decade after 9/11.
Top Floor, Left Wing follows a day-long hostage situation in a Parisian banlieue that takes place on September 11, 2011. Civil servant Francois (Hippolyte Girardot) is about to serve eviction papers to Mohand (Mohamed Fellag) when Akli (Aymen Saidi), Mohand’s son, freaks out and, thinking that Francois is going to bust him for drug possession, kidnaps Francois and holds him at gunpoint. Soon thereafter, newscasters begin reporting about the case, bringing to light Mohand’s—and hinting at Francois’s—prior activities as a terrorist. Akli assumes that the news is fake, but it’s the truth: Mohand actually was a murderer with a cause years ago.
According to the film’s undergirding logic, white people have prejudged Mohand, a Middle Easterner, and assumed he’s a terrorist. In reality, he is in fact a terrorist. But still, according to Cianci, it’s not fair to look at him with suspicion without knowing his motives and without realizing that he only did what he thought was right at the time. The events of Top Floor, Left Wing are meant to show us that he’s a good, compassionate Muslim because he’s assimilated himself into society, pays rent ,and takes care of his son. That’s the way Cianci counterbalances Mohand’s actions, by telling us that he’s just like any normative, white, working-class bourgeois drone.”
Between its half-hearted slapstick gags—laugh as poor Francois gets stuck in the door when Akli tries to kick the civil servants out of his apartment, then tsk-tsk when Francois mistakenly calls Mohand “Mohamad”—and dim-wited drama, there’s really nothing ideologically sound or even just harmlessly cute about Top Floor, Left Wing. Cianci’s film is like Crash if Crash were a comedy directed by Blake Edwards, but not Victor/Victoria Blake Edwards—more like Son of the Pink Panther Blake Edwards.
Top Floor, Left Floor will play on March 10 and 12 as part of this year’s Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series. To purchase tickets, click here.