Suzanne (2013)

I think there’s something to be said for Little White Lies‘ marking system, with separate marks for ‘anticipation’, ‘enjoyment’ and ‘in retrospect’, as it really gets towards a sense of the different stages of appreciating a film (though perhaps the third mark can only be filled in a few weeks or months later). In trawling through online streaming content for something to watch of an evening, there’s often little enough to arouse any anticipation, but however unassuming it looks from a mere description, Suzanne turns out to be a really very well-judged and interesting film. Ostensibly it presents a character study of the wayward daughter to single father Nicolas (François Damiens) and older sister to Maria (Adèle Haenel), as she grows up over the course of 20+ years, rebounding from one major life decision to another. However, the film largely eschews psychologising or explanatory dialogue, as we see only disconnected fragments from her life — a few minutes of her childhood, some poor teenage decisions involving her getting pregnant, moving out of town, being in jail — although frequently landing on some telling moment. The film is like a photo album of Suzanne’s life, linked by the power of Sara Forestier’s cagy performance in the central role. It’s a fascinating narrative strategy, and by making Suzanne something of an absence at the film’s heart, it puts more emphasis on the dynamics within her family, as well as giving the audience a little more work to do, but Suzanne’s dramatic arc definitely satisfies as a story of a person learning to live with themself and others.

Suzanne film posterCREDITS
Director Katell Quillévéré; Writers Mariette Désert and Quillévéré; Cinematographer Tom Harari; Starring Sara Forestier, François Damiens, Adèle Haenel; Length 90 minutes.
Seen at home (Amazon streaming), London, Monday 4 January 2016.

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La Famille Bélier (The Bélier Family, 2014)

Comedy, it is often said, doesn’t travel very well. I understand (from googling it) that this film, in which a young woman (Louane Emera) breaks away from her deaf family to pursue her passion for singing in Paris, has been very successful in France, though the article I found placed it in the august company of a whole bunch of other incredibly successful French comedies that I’ve never heard of. Still, perhaps that’s a particularly condescending way of writing it off; I’m sure there’s plenty here for Francophiles and fans of heartwarming feel-good comedy alike. Lartigau’s film is definitely sweet, with a streak of unabashed sentimentality, and has all the elements of a broad mainstream success in any country: a name star for the poster (Karin Viard in this case, as the mother Gigi); a teenage reality TV singing sensation (Emera); a deft hook for the screenplay (her mother, father and brother are all deaf, and yet she is a singer! to think!); and the tender gravitas in the musical oeuvre of a (presumably) big-name French singer to tug at the heartstrings in the finale (Michel Sardou). Look, clearly I just cannot shake off my sarcasm when I’m talking about this film, because there are so many elements to it that just make me want to roll my eyes when I call them to mind, but in truth, La Famille Bélier is a likeable concoction with visual flair (thanks to veteran DoP Romain Winding) and some fine performances, particularly from the dad (François Damiens), as a farmer with local political aspirations, who needs to break through the close-mindedness of his fellow community members. I can’t help but sense a slightly paternalistic attitude towards the family’s deafness — it’s unclear why they shouldn’t be able to get along without their daughter to translate — but the conceit pays off with a strong emotional punch in the film’s big Paris audition finale. It’s no masterpiece, but it shows some promise.

The Bélier Family film poster CREDITS
Director Éric Lartigau; Writers Victoria Bedos, Stanislas Carré de Malberg, Thomas Bidegain and Lartigau; Cinematographer Romain Winding; Starring Louane Emera, Karin Viard, François Damiens; Length 105 minutes.
Seen at Ciné Lumière, London, Tuesday 15 September 2015.