Film review:  Constance Meyer’s Robust – tender and poignant film where silence and stillness speaks volumes

What: Robust (Robuste – France) – in French, with English subtitles
Director, writer: Constance Meyer Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Déborah Lukumuena and Megan Northam
Available to view: European Film Festival (South Africa) -October 14 -24, 2021
Where: Tickets: No charge – tickets are free
Access: The online screening of films are geo-blocked for viewing in South Africa only.    Genre: Drama  
Running time: 92 minutes    

Director – and writer – Constance Meyer – imbues her film, Robust with a tender poignancy, where silence and stillness speaks volumes. The film stars veteran actor, Gérard Depardieu and Déborah Lukumuena who at 26, has already won a César Award (the French Oscar). Depardieu plays George, an aging actor, who wouldn’t mind checking out of life. He eats too much, pitches up late for his shoots and is thoroughly jaded, ensconced in his beautiful home in the Paris suburbs, talking to creatures in a blue fish tank.  Lukumuena takes on the role of Aïssa, his temporary body guard. In her spare time, she is an amateur wrestler and she dabbles in a relationship with physical benefits, but without love. It suits her or does it? She is focussed on her job and her wrestling. She babysits George and ensures that he pitches up for work and knows his lines. Two lonely souls connect and no, there isn’t a romance. But, it is also about love – love for others and oneself – love for work; love of process -making art; learning one’s lines; loving one’s work and a commitment to doing it well – no matter what. There is a robust connection between two people who size each other up in, beautifully choreographed interactions, masterfully framed by the director, Constance Meyer.

Depardieu is big presence on screen. We have watched him for years and often he tends to dominate the action. It would have been easy for him to play the buffoon in Robust- the actor gone to seed and the young handler there to prop him up. George could easily have become a cliché – “ha ha- look at the actor who has become a joke to everyone”. Depardieu textures his role with pathos and yearning – never descending into clown- as he dredges up the humanity of George- and regains his sense of being alive; being appreciated and valued.

Meyer has both actors bringing a stillness to their roles – robust manifestations – inhabiting the skin of their characters.  Lukumuena is magnificent as Aïssa. She is regal, dignified and immovable- in her commitment above all to her vocation- doing her job; being loyal and discreet. It is a film with intense moments of discomfit- the collision of their worlds- privilege, gender etc. Look out for the restaurant scene. How many restaurant scenes come to mind for you, when you think of films? Harry Met Sally – that hilarious scene with Meg Ryan having a fake orgasm -is one of my top picks. Robust will stay in my mind with its restaurant scene. It is not funny. The scene is at the heart of this stirring film- a moment which is raw and brutal and in which Depardieu and Lukumuena, dance around each other, frozen and at once combative and ultimately finding a place of shared healing. Plot spoil: When George apologises, Aïssa quips wryly that she will “get over it”. A taught script, rousing musical soundtrack, lighting with shots of blue and transcendent performances, makes Robust, a joy to experience. It is screening online, at the European Film Festival (South Africa) -October 14 -24, 2021 and is free to view – but is geo-locked for viewers in South Africa.