The early pacing of Jean-Bernard Marlin’s La fugue (The Runaway) demands attention: quick cuts, sharp turns and a shaky camera operating as a watchful eye. The intensity of Julien Poupard’s cinematogrpahy matches the demeanor of youth worker Lakdar (Adel Bencherif), who searches for a young girl with a court date. The potential inmate, Sabrina (Médina Yalaoui), offers a smile to her elder, unaware of the trouble the day will bring. Lakdar patiently waits as Sabrina changes threads, but the girl’s renewed exterior simply can’t hide the complexities of her outward demeanor. The odds are against her, although her protector isn’t. Adel appears to have experienced such a predicament before.
Bencherif exudes that rare type of charisma one can’t teach. He starred in Jacques Audiard’s 2009 prison drama A Prophet (one of my favorite modern crime films) and utilizes his domineering persona in La fugue but with a quiet intensity. Lakdar watches from the sideline and verbally guides Sabrina through a court hearing, but still, the girl from Marseilles doesn’t understand that a slang term like “juked” means nothing to an unforgiving judge. Incidentally, Sabrina fails to comprehend the gravity of the moment despite the look of agony across Lakdar’s visage. Like a deer in headlights, she gazes outward until the truth knocks her to the ground. Bleeding with fear, Sabrina darts off into the night with a reluctant hunter on her trail.
La fugue, winner of Best Short Film at the 2013 Berlin International Film Festival, tells a story through facial road maps and unspoken words. Sabrina doesn’t have to appreciate Lakdar as a person or even understand his story, but their interactions convey a mutual understanding, if only a small one. It’s never clear where Lakdar has been or why ended up working with troubled kids, but his maturity and obvious understanding of adolescent behavior reflects someone familiar with personal loss. He moves quickly and calculates the effects of his words. He observes while being pushed back, literally and figuratively. Director Marlin offers a brief game of cat-and-mouse in La fugue, but the real story is not whether Lakdar will find Sabrina, but whether he will find the inner peace to match his controlled exterior.
Jean-Bernard Marlin’s La fugue is now streaming on MUBI USA.