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Roméo Onze | Review

Past it’s Dancing Day

The debut feature of Ivan Grbovic, Romeo Eleven, features a glimpse into a community not often represented in Western cinema with this tale about a young Lebanese man in Montreal. The film’s trajectory, while at first compelling the less we know about our main protagonist, becomes more and more standard as the tale hits a rather predictable track. While this film manages to glean a moderate amount of pathos due to a quietly observed performance from lead, Ali Ammar, the distinction of showcasing an often unseen community really reiterates that coming of age stories, even for those disenfranchised with their individual communities, have similar coming of age traumas.

Disabled due to an unmentioned accident earlier in life, our focus is Rimi, a quiet and shy person lying to his parents about enrolling in a math class at community college. Rimi spends a large amount of time on the internet chatting with a beautiful young woman. His handle is romeo11, and she thinks he’s a traveling businessman that works for a profitable company. She keeps begging him to meet and he keeps making excuses not to. A certain amount of tension, excitement, and anxiety surround these interactions and we might even feel bad for the young woman, though she’s strangely eager to meet a young man with such a low resolution profile picture that speaks so disparagingly about his life, and his boss. In reality, Rimi works at his father’s restaurant, a man who makes it clear that to get ahead in life one must work very hard.

Having immigrated to Canada with nothing, Rimi’s father has done quite well for his family. Rimi’s eldest sister is about to get married and his younger sister often uses Rimi as a cover so she can go meet boys while he’s left to drive around the city. Beginning to feel unsatisfied with his parents’ nagging to meet a woman or about deciding on what to do with his life (or even to get his driver’s license), RImi breaks down and makes a date with his online love interest. Booking a room at a swank hotel, he buys roses and waits for her in the hotel restaurant. The second half of the film deals informed by the circumstances after this scene. While there’s a surprise in store, there’s obviously a finite amount of ways this can go.

Romeo Eleven can’t really be termed a film about the Lebanese community in Canada. True, the protagonist is French speaking Lebanese and disabled, but the film does manage to be more universal than those labels may suggest. However, this happens to make it more of a generic tale about coming of age and the often seen cliché concerning what happens when lying to ourselves about our identities. There are moments when Ali Ammar’s performance is particularly moving, especially a scene where he practices what he’s going to say to the young woman he wants to meet in the hotel room. The rest of his family isn’t really developed enough to care about. The title’s obvious suggestion (romeo one through ten are taken handles) is that searching for idealistic connections is something we all yearn for, so much so that we copy stereotypical tropes to make them. And doesn’t the end result always reveal itself to be an unsatisfactory projection? Romeo Eleven skirts the notion that this could be Coming of Age Indie with Troubled Youth (insert next available number). Certainly worth a look among nouveau Canadian film debuts, but could have been stronger.

Reviewed on September 14 at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – CANADA FIRST! Programme.

Rating 2.5 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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