Review: Robust

Written and directed by Constance Meyer, co-written by Marcia Romano, an aging and disenchanted film star gets a new assistant in the form of a young female security officer. Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Déborah Lukumuena, Lucas Mortier, Megan Northam, Florence Janas, Steve Tientcheu and Théodore Le Blanc.

When you think of unlikely friendships it usually involves banter, sweetness and an outpouring of hearts but Robust bucks that trend. It’s not concerned with declarations of kindness and compassion, it’s filled instead with an honesty and relatability. It explores a story of finding contentment, accepting your flaws and those of others and forging ahead. While an ageing star becoming insolent and uncontrollable is far from a new concept, the creation of Aïssa (Déborah Lukumuena) is fantastically refreshing. Having a young black woman who’s confident, strong, successful, self-assured and sexual is sadly not as common of a character as it should be, so it’s great to see here. It also doesn’t push on the idea of being in service, there’s a nice mutual respect, while Georges (Gérard Depardieu) is undoubtedly needy and unruly, it always comes from a place of vulnerability and loneliness, not superiority. Adding in the wrestling element is another great touch, it’s surprisingly effective in helping to develop the story and its characters, providing another and unusual outlet to explore emotion.

It’s never going to be a surprise that Gérard Depardieu does well with a role such as this, he’s been acting for over fifty years with over two hundred credits to his name. He’s an ideal choice and gives everything he needs to, especially tapping into the balance of being infuriating and childish with the vein of kindness, compassion and vulnerability underneath. Depardieu is then perfectly paired with Déborah Lukumuena as there’s a hugely natural and unspoken connection between them. She’s extremely charming as Aïssa, and captures an interesting subtlety, putting out such confidence but with hints towards her vulnerabilities. One of the best aspects to her performance is how sure she is with whatever she says, there’s no messing around, she’s not stubborn just honest and clear.

Visually, one of the elements which stands out is the editing, there are a number of additions that bring a smooth and smart edge to the movement of the scenes. It simultaneously gives you exactly what you’re expecting, but adds an extra layer of thoughtfulness to embrace what goes unsaid by its characters. It’s intimate but it doesn’t try to push warmth too much, the cinematography captures the everyday to keep that honest and relatable feel going. It’s paced out well, it’s fairly contained so there’s no big eruptions and drama, yet it holds your attention consistently well through its charm.

Robust is understated, honest and relatable, setting a departure from unlikely friendships being overloaded with sweetness, instead finding a quiet compassion. We need more characters like Aïssa, she’s an absolute gem and portrayed perfectly by Déborah Lukumuena, who we’ll hopefully keep seeing more and more of in the years to come. While Gérard Depardieu was made for this role so it would be highly unlikely he could ever disappoint. The visual style is smartly deceptive, both simple and complex. Overall, it’s captivating, charming and steps enough to the side of convention to give us something more grounded and touching.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

In UK cinemas from 22 July

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