March 20, 2005
Local Call, 2004
During the Q&A for Local Call, filmmaker Arthur Joffé expressed his great fondness and respect for the works of Nobel laureate author and playwright, Isaac Bashevis Singer, whom he credits as his primary screenwriting influence, and from the complex tragicomic, impassioned, affecting, and deeply humanist tone of the film, the affinity is easy to see. As the film begins, the neurotic, well-to-do, and (perhaps all-too) comfortably settled astrophysicist Félix Mandel (Sergio Castellitto), arranges to meet with his first love Wendy (Emily Morgan) during a working trip to London and returns home with her gift for his son, an overfamiliar gesture for which his wife Lucie (Isabelle Gélinas) responds with an order to clean out his wretchedly overfilled, disorganized home office. Leaving only a box filled with his late father's belongings for storage, including a cashmere overcoat that Félix had retrieved unaltered from the tailor for him on the day of his death, Félix decides to offer the overcoat to a homeless man who then promptly sells the article to a near-mythical, joy-riding, motorcycle daredevil known in the streets as Le Prince Noir for spare change. However, Félix soon discovers that dispossessing himself of his father's effects will not allow his father, Lucien (Michel Serrault) to rest in peace, as he begins to receive mysterious - and exorbitantly expensive - collect calls from Heaven reproaching him for dispensing of his overcoat so readily. Driven into near bankruptcy (and brink of insanity) by his father's rationally unsettling, yet intrinsically emotionally reassuring conversations, Félix resolves to recover his father's overcoat and complete the alteration that the tailor (László Szabó) had earlier refused to perform. It is important to note that the French title, Ne quittez pas! ("Don't hang up") is more thematically in keeping with spirit of the film. During the Q&A, Joffé also offers two additional anecdotes that greatly contribute to the appreciation of the film: the first is that the alteration that was asked to be performed - and adamantly rejected - by his personal tailor is based on a true incident in Joffé's father's life (both his father and the tailor were children of the Holocaust); the second is that Joffé had intended for a French actor to play the part of Félix, but soon found that cultural and spiritual issues - and social implications in French society - that underpin the story made the role uncomfortable, and none of the French actors whom Joffé had approached with the script accepted the part. Unable to cast locally, Joffé then turned to Sergio Castellitto, with whom he had previously collaborated on Alberto Express, in what turned out to be a stroke of pitch-perfect casting that delicately balances fragility, affection, humor, charm, sophistication, intelligence, turmoil, and spirituality into an intelligent and affirming, yet whimsical examination of cultural rootlessness, despiritualization, filial devotion, and the legacy of the diasporic experience.