Two new French films reflect the flipside of long movies. Born in '68 examines the legacy of that year's protests on the next generation while Rien dans les poches ('empty pockets') takes a 17-year-old post-punk popstrel and follows her through to her forties. So, roughly the same time span, just a decade later.
The two movies touch on some of the same themes: the Mitterand and Chirac years; the threat of the far right and, notably, AIDS. You might expect Born in '68 to be the weightier, considering its starting point, but it struggles; director-writers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau fail to find convincing parallels between the revolt of the late '60s and the fight for access to HIV drugs a generation on. And while their hearts are very clearly close to the latter battle, they fatally lose their sense of humour at this point in proceedings.
Both films are nearly four hours long and focus on a central female figure but Emma de Caunes' turn in Rien dans les poches hopelessly outstrips vapid model Laetitia Casta in terms of presence. Born in '68 seems to think that ensuring Casta looks stunning on screen throughout is enough to keep us hooked, but it makes everything that passes look like a shallow fashion spread.
Conversely, and somewhat ironically given its early setting among TV shows and cover shoots, Rien dans les poches feels much more real. Even its fictional pop songs are spot on. Director Marion Vernoux says she wanted to make a 12-hour film originally so this is virtually a trailer; I would happily have more of its world of Plastic Bertrand and Rubik's Cubes. Best of all are the performances, notably de Caunes, who's never less than watchable, but watch out too for producer Alain Chabat, best known over here for his roles in comedies (I Do and The Science of Sleep), as a wonderfully understated drag queen.
Vernoux's film is reminiscent of some of the best episodic family TV dramas; BBC2's adaptation of Tim Pears' In a Land of Plenty springs to mind. She makes us care about the characters and shows, rather than telling. So avoid Ducastel and Martineau's dry thesis and turn instead to the much more fun Rien dans les poches.