Magazine article Variety

Bajon Delivers Breakthrough Perf in Kahn's 'Prayer'

Magazine article Variety

Bajon Delivers Breakthrough Perf in Kahn's 'Prayer'

Article excerpt

Bajon Delivers Breakthrough Perf in Kahn's 'Prayer'

REVIEW

IF YOU DON'T believe in God, but praying to him gives you comfort, does it count? If you do believe, but don't express it, does your faith still protect you? Like Catholic variations on the old if-a-tree-fallsin- a-forest question, these and other theological uncertainties are intelligently woven into "The Prayer," Cédric Kahn's clear-eyed, open-minded study of a rural religious sanctuary for recovering addicts. Agnostically observant in its approach to spiritual matters, but more devout in its quiet celebration of human compassion, this film's most complicated lines of inquiry largely play out on the young, unformed face of its protagonist Thomas - impressively played by breakthrough star Anthony Bajon - a shy former junkie whose push-pull battle between the ways of nature and grace gives this otherwise tranquil film a throughline of nervous tension.

Though this Berlin competition entry will likely be respectfully regarded on the festival circuit, its absence of both stars and narrative fireworks might curb its international distribution prospects. Its plain, confident purity of style and tone make it another distinguished entry, however, in the growingly diverse oeuvre of Kahn, one of France's most unassuming but subtly muscular auteurs. Following 2014's earthily rewarding back-to-nature drama "Wild Life," "The Prayer" also confirms that Kahn has found his optimum creative ally in ace cinematographer Yves Cape ("Holy Motors," "White Material" and a host of Bruno Dumont austerities), whose tactile but casually airy shooting of weathered male faces and majestic Alpine mountainscapes alike is perfectly in tune with his director's own textured simplicity.

Bookending shots at the beginning and toward the end of the film zero in on the particularly narrative-bearing visage of 22-yearold Thomas, the slight differences between them marking the degree of internal change - not exactly a neat 180, as the vertex struggles back and forth with the seasons - that takes place over the film's approximate two-year timeframe.

Bajon, robustly graduating from recent, smaller assignments for André Techiné and Jacques Doillon, is blessed with the kind of countenance that can change startlingly from one scene to the next even without makeup effects - though when he's first introduced, glowering in the passenger seat as he's driven to a remote refuge in France's Isère region, it takes us a minute to see what a boy he still is beneath the wounds and graying complexion that go with heroin dependency.

Kahn and co-writers Fanny Burdino and Samuel Doux deliberately offer us nothing in the way of backstory for their protagonist, beyond the basic nature of his addiction. …

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