“A broken promise is not a lie.” This Paul Ekman quote accompanies mayor Clémence (Isabelle Huppert) in her last term in office. Her municipality is a greater Paris banlieue, where the slumlords flourish and the occupants of housing developments live in squalor. Initially cautious about whether she can balance the delicate tightrope act between giving her word and actively deceiving her constituents, she soon allows herself to be swept away by ambition when an opportunity arises for her to ascend the political ladder.

Isabelle Huppert, with all her talents, is indisputably a pillar of French film, but it is her co-star Reda Kateb who stands out in this Orizzonti entry. His evolution from loyal chief of staff, righthand man to Clémence, to finally proving himself to be more than her lapdog when the crunch comes, is fascinating to watch. While the fact remains that the political choices of governing women are scrutinised differently than those of their male peers, the persona of Clémence is at times difficult for the viewer to connect with. Kateb’s character Yazid is given much more profundity.

As the second feature of director Thomas Kruithof deals with the ubiquitous matter of politicians being “all talk”, the film itself is very dialogue-laden. The set-up could possibly have been paced more concisely, but the information given pays off in the third act.

Political catharsis through fictional enactment appears to be finding a new up-current in French cinema, as The Promises falls in line with films such as The Divide, which premiered at this year’s Cannes festival. Nevertheless there is an edge missing in these recent films, a finger is placed in the wound but it could venture deeper. There is a reason La Haine is still memorable even after 26 years. Promises, unfortunately, will not meet the same fate.

★★★☆☆

Selina Sondermann

Promises (Les Promesses) does not have a UK release date yet.

For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.

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