Much in the way computers, be them Apple or PC, can liberate you from zone restrictions for a country-specific film festival the same can be true if you’re building a festival around an actor and they happen to be a foreign performer.
The focus of this film festival, which will serve as an example, is Robinson Stévenin. Acting, it would seem, has always been in Robinson’s blood. He is the son of the well-known French actor Jean-François Stévenin, who is perhaps best known for playing the role of François Truffaut’s Assistant Director in the film about filmmaking Day for Night.
His breakout role was in the film Bad Company (Mauvaises frequentations) where he played a young man who so enraptured his girlfriend she agreed to start an ad hoc prostitution ring with him. It’s a truly effective and great film that a one-line synopsis does not do justice to. For this role Robinson was nominated for a César Award (France’s Equivalent to the Oscar) as Most Promising Actor. He would go on to capture that award two years later for his role in Transfixed (Mauvais genres), which featured in this festival.
The Children’s Revolt
His first recognition came for his role in The Children’s Revolt a film about a rebellion in a children’s penal colony in the 19th century. Although he is by no means the lead in this film his performance, as the so-called Lil’ Shaver (Rase-Motte), he is such a standout as a precocious, funny, eloquent kid that he not only receives a favorable quote on the DVD cover but also captured Best Actor at the Paris Film Festival in 1992. What’s more impressive is that he seems to be playing a lot younger than he is in this part, and his scene with the Countess is most definitely one of the highlights of the film.
La Petit Lili
This is quite an interesting film and a great role for him. The film co-stars Ludivine Sagnier, known from Swimming Pool and Peter Pan, as his girlfriend and muse who stars in a short film he makes. He screens it for friends and family and it does not go as swimmingly as he hoped and in essence it starts snowballing in a way that will affect everyone. The characters retire to their separate quarters and start re-examining their lives. In this part he manages to portray the dichotomy of sensitive, brooding artist and also the malcontent who flies off the handle when hearing something he does not like. Yet his anger is justified at times and he handles intellectual dialogue with tremendous effect. He manages to turn the bitter petulant teenager into a character who is not reviled but can be an identifiable protagonist.
As mentioned above this is the role that won Robinson the César as Most Promising Actor. It is inordinately rare to see an actor completely and totally change his persona and not just his appearance. In this film Robinson plays a transsexual prostitute embroiled in the middle of a whodunit it in Brussels. He is completely and utterly transformed and plays the part to a tee. You are never truly left watching a performance but a character. For whatever is lacking in the plot the performance more than makes up for it.
Yet another face of Stévenin – here he plays a soldier serving under a totalitarian Colonel in Algeria. Through his diary he reveals the details of his tour of duty and these pages are slowly delivered to the military assisting the police in the investigation of the Colonel’s murder many years later. Here Stévenin can be seen as a duty-bound man with a conscience who is still a bit of an idealist, but slowly loses some faith but struggles to do what is right and not always just follow orders. It is a tremendous piece of work, and the fact that it is shot in black and white shows the timelessness of his star-quality.