Tomorrow fails to move audience

The premise of “Tomorrow We Move” (“Demain on Demenage”), Chantal Akerman’s new French comedy making its U.S. premiere at the SFJFF, is absolutely fabulous. A recently widowed Jewish mother (Aurore Clement) moves in with her chain-smoking, would-be novelist daughter in her already cramped Parisian studio. It’s every daughter’s worse nightmare come true.

It’s a modern day “Make Room for Mommy,” although where is Danny Thomas now? Because of the lack of space — both physical and psychological — they decide to move, thus setting into motion the threadbare plot consisting of a series of vignettes of both prospective buyers and the apartments they look at.

For fans of Akerman (the 54-year-old Belgian feminist filmmaker whom John Hoberman of the Village Voice once called one of the most important directors of her generation) the movie will be a sore disappointment as it’s a mess and not particularly amusing. A light touch completely eludes her, unless one finds it hysterical that a vacuum cleaner belches up black smoke (not once but twice!).

The film is claustrophobic with a chain-smoking, seemingly repressed lesbian protagonist (Sylvie Testud) whose dialogue has her 90 percent of the time repeating what another character has just said, perhaps to highlight her lack of interior life. At her mother’s suggestion, she eavesdrops on other’s conversations in a café to get material for her erotic novels. The direction is so heavy-handed, however, that she literally leans all the way over with her ear cocked. Somewhat amusingly, eccentric characters pop in and out … ironically asking, “Got imagination?” while commenting about taste, child-bearing, size of bathrooms and the memories that odors evoke, as well as full versus empty refrigerators.

There are hints of a more interesting and darker film with Jewish themes. The lead character, who looks a bit like she could be Adrian Brody’s homely sister, has the last name Wienstein and the Realtor is a Polish survivor (Jean-Pierre Marielle) who makes reference to a “feeling of sadness” of “the third generation”. There is a yarmulke lying around that another character picks up, puts on and muses about what a funny little hat it is.

I was particularly saddened to see Natacha Regnier, who was so brilliant in 1998’s “Dreamlife of Angels” (“La Vie Revee Des Anges”), in a wasted role, playing an eight-month pregnant woman who is reluctant to have the child.

When it all ends, collapses really, in a wild display of most of the characters piano-playing, off-color singing and mad-cap dancing about the room, one is left fantasizing about what an interesting film with such a rich subtext that might have been made.

“Tomorrow We Move” (“Demain on Demenage”) screens at 9 p.m. July 26, Castro Theatre, , 429 Castro St., S.F ; 8:30 p.m. Aug. 3, Wheeler Auditorium, U.C. Berkeley campus; and 6 p.m. Aug. 5 Mountain View Century Cinema 16, 1500 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. Tickets: $7-$18. (925) 275-9490, or