The English / international title of "Les neiges du Kilimandjaro" may be "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," but the French 2011 drama has nothing to do with Ernest Hemingway's well-known story. While the story is part inspired by Victor Hugo's poem "How Good are the Poor," the film's title comes from a 1966 song by Pascal Danel, which you will hear in the film several times. Directed by Robert Guédiguian ("Marius and Jeannette"), "Les neiges du Kilimandjaro" tackles one serious issue in modern society, but the film, well-acted and well-intentioned as it is, suffers from the sentimental and uneven narrative.
Set in today's Marseille, the film follows the story of a downsized union reprehensive Michel (Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and his wife Marie-Claire (Ariane Ascaride). One day Michel, Marie-Claire, her sister Denise (Marilyne Canto) and Denise's husband Raoul (Gérard Meylan) are attacked by two masked robbers, who take away the money and the tickets for a trip to Africa. Later Michel by chance discovers the identity of one of the robbers - it was Christophe, a young worker Michel happened to have worked with before they were forced to leave their jobs.
"Les neiges du Kilimandjaro" poses an important question as to one on-going social issue, namely the increasing class division in our society, especially the one between the young and the old, but the solution suggested in the decisions Marie-Claire and Michel make independently are too unrealistic and sentimental. They look more like some kind-hearted gentlemen often seen in Victorian novels. The storytelling is melodramatic and some characters look almost like caricature portraits.
Or maybe the director is aware of the film's own weakness. Michel, a former union representative, knows younger people may think his lifestyle is that of Bourgeois. Here the film gives insight into the topic it deals with, and several characters of the younger generation - Michel's two children Gilles and Flo, and of course, Christophe - ALMOST speak out what they think, but the film moves on without giving them much time to do so. It is a pity that there is a real drama between the conflict, which the director Guédiguian shows, but never explores.
Beautifully shot in the city of Marseille (where the director is born), "Les neiges du Kilimandjaro" attempts to describe the ordinary people as they are. The attempt succeeds to some extent, but the effect is undermined by the too sentimental treatment of the subject matter.