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Witnesses, The (DVD Review)

25 May, 2008 By: Holly J. Wagner


Prebook 5/29/08; Street 6/24/08
Box Office $0.08 million
$27.99 DVD
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Emmanuelle B?art, Sami Bouajila, Michel Blanc, Johan Lib?reau.

So many films about the dawn of the AIDS epidemic are trite. It's refreshing to see one that, while touching on ground that is well-covered by now, doesn't feel old or maudlin.

The Witnesses is intimate and genuine. The characters are likeable, and first-rate acting makes viewers feel like we've known the characters for a long time.

Split into three parts aptly titled “Summer,” “Winter” and “Summer Returns,” the film follows free-spirited Manu (Lib?reau) from a promising youth to his untimely death.

While trolling a park for anonymous hookups, Manu meets middle-aged Adrien (Blanc), a doctor who is immediately smitten. Their friendship blossoms, though Adrien's growing love is unrequited. One of their summer outings leads them to visit Sarah (B?art) and Mehdi (Bouajila), friends of Adrien's whose happy open marriage is feeling the strain of new parenthood.

Manu feels like Adrien is getting too possessive and refuses to move in with him, even though Adrien swears he won't try to interfere in Manu's affairs.

Mehdi, a high-ranking vice detective and a Muslim, runs into Manu while surveilling the brothel where Manu lives because of cheap rent. He warns Manu to move or be subject to suspicion himself. But they become friends, and then lovers.

Jealous Adrien finds Manu and, after a fight, sees the sores emerging on Manu's body. After a brief inspection, he knows what's causing them and what is in store. Manu retreats to his camper and refuses, without explanation, to see Mehdi.

So begins “Winter.” Mehdi finds out why Manu won't see him and must cope with the possibility that he also is infected, and may have infected others. As Manu, now living in Adrien's care, deteriorates, Mehdi must deal with his shame and self-loathing, and others must deal with their feelings of betrayal. Ultimately it's Manu's death that forces resolution.

Maybe it's hindsight that allows such a thoughtful examination of the havoc AIDS wreaked on so many lives, especially before much was known about prevention and treatment. But it's also about redemption, as those left behind mend and move on.

This film is frank and definitely not for youngsters, but any adult who's not homophobic can appreciate the quality storyline and delivery.

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