Dir. Mélanie Laurent, France, 2011, 100 minutes,
Cast: Marie Denarnaud, Denis Ménochet, Mélanie Laurent, Clémentine Célarié, Théodore Maquet-Foucher
Review by Dee Pilgrim
Mélanie Laurent is better known as an actress than a director, but this, her debut movie in two roles (she also wrote the screenplay), shows she has a deft, sensitive touch and charming sense of humour.
Set in Lyon, the film follows the fortunes of a matriarchal family unit: Millie (Célarié) the hard boozing mother; her whimsical, hesitant adopted daughter Marine (Denarnaud); and her biological, cynical daughter Lisa (played by Laurent herself). Lisa has a young son Leo (Maquet-Foucher), whose father is long since gone and the women have little time for the company of men until Alex (Ménochet) walks into the bookshop where Marine works and a romance blossoms. This immediately changes the dynamics within the women of the family, as Marine becomes less reliant on her mother and sister for company, for advice, for conversation, but most of all for love. Lisa resents Alex for taking her sister away and is initially hostile towards him, until a tragic accident forces her into accepting him as a part of the family group.
The accident is the pivot around which the rest of the film revolves, it also neatly cuts the film into two distinct halves with very different feels; the beginning of the film is light, flirtatious, charmingly quirky and explorative, while the second half is darker, deeper, harder and more realistic. Interestingly enough, the first half is dominated by Marine’s story and its feel and tone reflect her personality, while the latter part of the movie is dominated by Lisa and has her sharper, more cynical edge, although nearing the film’s resolution, it appears that some of Marine’s lightness of spirit has been absorbed by Lisa.
With not one but three such strong female characters dominating the screen and storyline, Denis Ménochet does well to stop Alex from disappearing into the background and merely being a plot device. In fact, the dogged, determined Alex makes a nice contrast to the sometimes headstrong and contrary nature of Millie and her brood. However, this really is the women’s story and beautifully captures the ups, downs, tantrums, tears, laughter and joy that being part of a female dynasty entails. It’s a film about growing up, growing apart and yet closer, about letting go and learning to live again after heartbreak. Laurent captures perfectly the sense of female petulance but also the generosity of spirit and tight emotional bonds that exist between a mother and her daughters and also between sisters and their own offspring. The very essence of the film is distilled in the closing musical track, I might Float, by French band Syd Matters.