MONTPARNASSE BIENVENUE Jeune Femme
Director: Leonor Serraille, Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Gregoire Monsaingeon, Jean-Christophe Folly, Nathalie Richard, Arnaud de Cazes.
Produced by, Sandra da Fonseca, Bertrand Gore, Nathalie Mesuret, Written by Léonor Sérraille, Music by Julie Roué, Cinematography Emilie Noblet, Edited by Clémence Carré. Production company, Blue Monday Productions.
Duration : 1hr 38 mins. Cert. 15.
QFT note: Léonor Serraille’s Cannes Camera d’Or winning drama stars Laetitia Dosch as a 31-year-old struggling to find her place in the world following a break-up
Prone to being her own worst enemy, Paula lugs her ex’s pet cat around Paris in a cardboard box, freewheeling but determined to get back on track in life. As she meets different people along the way, there is one thing she knows for sure: she’s determined to make a new start – and she’ll do it with style and panache.
The starting over in the world of relationships requires many things. Firstly the previous baggage of the previous life choice is in need of assessment and revision in the learning or unlearning or making sense of other people as they find you and you find them.
Paula is out of a 10 year relationship which has been a high reward low risk conscript. Safety and no children or ties. So to find herself without the means to survive is a shock of the first order and she is in a compelling meltdown when we enter the picture. As for the future it happens from the circumstances outside the flat her ex partner, Joachim Deloche’s identity is not brought in for a long period. Fraught phonecalls only. The only companion going forward happens to be their estranged cat, rescued from the neighvours store. This is a very sharp fall from a high level of what seems a normal existence and the suggestion of difference or reason for the break up is not clear. Every indication is it ought to have been sooner which is probably nagging throughout the following period while new answers are sought.
Outside looking in
Horrible as it may be the notion of breakdown is treated comedically here. Horrible as the notion of looking inward on someone’s problems is almost voyueristic and as approach it requires for our benefit to be done with sensitivity and prove unlike any invasion of privacy. Believing this is relatively easy as the outward play of antics unfolds. The new partnerships of herself with every aspect of her life are calibrated. We are asked to engage and engage we do with the dilemmas false and positive states Paula encounters.
If it is not refreshing, refreshing in the sense Paula is freed from this past, she verbalises it instantly. Paula is a realist and needs to be. While the circumstances have altered greatly, she is virtually without funds, resources, or outlook or job and has been estranged from her family. No siblings, just a Mum whose one live is as a loner who all have left her to her own devices.
Ten years investment even without creating a body of work in concert with another, anything representing a life lived is almost ambiguously absent here. The high reward has been the cocoon of comfortable living which may have superficially or otherwise been of benefit to the onward and upward Joachim but is the total opposite as it is found for Paula. Weird as this may seem it is were we are. This is Paula.
Paula is here in the central representation of a modern woman whose future is in flux at 31. Therein lies the test of the film. Do we believe this pretext do we engage and go on with the premise? As it is it is very easy to become part of the whimsy and progress if only because it is not our journey. The meltdown mentioned at the beginning is a force which exorcises the anger. That says plenty of the observed strength Paula gas and similarly you ask would I be so strong? The authorial interest is writing a series of questions.
Who am I Paula begins to ask and when asking herself is able to suggest she is who she makes herself. Not defined but someone else’s love. ‘You the world to me’ type of trope which presents as when reversed, ‘I no longer have you so I’m nothing’. A variation of this is a positive and mortality is better than immortality if your alive sort of thing. The viable life is all that need be of concern to Paula and her focus is played out by her adopting various personas on a trial basis so to speak – in increments she tries various tactics of approach in meeting people which is problematic often and surprisingly gainful in others.
Clubbing an music are in her heart as a strong connective muse or even identity though that is not entirely properly explored. I saw her embrace the music and discard the palyacting and physical involvement often overarching its ambience and drive.
Determined to set a fresh positive start again, going at the objective of finding a partner is a priority for Paula and her assistant is a curate cat. There is a premise in the making here where the prospective lover must like cats though not necessarily be as driven and cat dependant as Paula. Meeting new people is not a problem and with the whole of Paris, the city of romance a map of lovers imaginings in all directions Paula has the positive notion of claiming her rightful place in the bewitching quest mere mortals find a life’s work. The different people she meets is the passage of this story and it reveals to Paula and us the audience revealing aspects even a 31 year old had forgotten or mislaid in the past, 2solemnly lost faith in the other part of a relationship taken for granted and through that misled into the future.
By creating a new future and being adaptable – Paula insists in an interview one of her opportunistic happenings – she constructs a person who is meticulous, sporting, methodical, unconflicted ambiguity employed in a beautifully framed episode plus humour. One of several identity formulating encounters which makes for great cinema and form neatly composed portraits and each asking and straining to avoid placing Paula in a pigeonhole of convenience. Paula is evasively loveable. She is attractive in more than mere presence and given the reddish aspect of long locks she combines outfits in a multiple method acting ethos sometimes a ‘hint pop star’ haute couture aficionado or arty bohemian. It is all productive in the sense it provides us with multiple viewpoints but for a Paula it is a case of being all over the place. We learn as she – gently – does that she is her own worst enemy. For empathy we are fellow travellers, at least I went with it and given the superb mix and flow of the various disparate elements each following very different paths it was very watchable and entertaining often gruesomely funny while also having edgy bottom notes which are typically well handled as French cinema is at ease with. Never leaden and stale the good and bad are evoked with relativism and beefier in Paula’s problems and her dealing handsomely and genuinely with warmth to claim the prize of delivering a very good film.
Transient visual loving eye
Visually this film carried with it the history of masters of the art of storytelling in French cinema. There were overhead views of street scenes taken at the poised easy pedestrian pace importantly defining place and other elements passing by unobserving what we are watching from above. Their are several scenes you will probably want to remember as they are formative. One I loved was during an on the move job interview where the interviewee who was a dancer took us on a joyous sense of movement up to a maids room in a longish sequence. It was beautifully done and in its contrast with previous and later scenes lent choreography to the viewers experience while removed from dance. A piece of confident and imaginative cinema.
There were other scenes. Roaming scenes, one with her Mum, one inside and out of a shared sofa apartment with someone who believes Paula connects her with her past. The Paris invoked is not over sentimentalised or over evoked but is compellingly real which is certainly a big positive for a debut feature director.
Portraiture by camera
An instinctive panache means ever new beginning is treated with sumptuous panache and devilry by Léonor Serraille’s habit of playing the positive and not subscribing and making Paula subscribe to the desperate negative aspects and sometimes harsh reality in play. This is then visually expressed in the vivid colours and interchangeable almost clothes horse persons of Paula herself as she mediates her self in the circumstances as thrown up or found, actively sought out.
Parachutes are deployed metaphorically and an internal mechanism is activated announcing new starts. She is able to land a job, in fact two and one is as a babysitter to a young girl whose introspection and absence of ‘love’ is given life after several errors and misreads by a paula. This is the dancers part and it is a constructive form providing contrast to the other shopping mall job where she meets again another earlier acquaintance. Ousmane is another character we meet whose job does not fit his ambition and the comprises all round are length and common. Material things are not the object of many but the consumerism is what has them survive wither as sales people selling a dream or minding the spectacle it is another strand. Also I began to think the professions similarly were in a strange place.
Deep into the film there are choices arising for Paula involving relationships and there are further encounters with a Doctor who herself is open, and in keeping with the exploration, she too is seen to look into the past for meaning. They spill out from everywhere, emotions caught in memory, always present and demanding. The past tells Paula things she has not been bothered with and newness presents a clean slate in many ways. The estrangement with her mother is also a recurring theme and Paula is kept searching in that part of her life for its meaning. Something is still harming her from within. It I spoke something’s that she holds onto and cannot free. My take on it was of her looking for an inner sanctity which she never had and only occasionally does she find it and it appears to her in aloneness when with other people. The music and Yuki influence draw on this. Even the job in the lingerie mall has its aspects of learning. Men pay attention! The luxury of lingerie is a means to pamper which all women look to as preening for themselves and is a solitary thing, a skill in touching their feminine empowerment and from that whatever comes comes.
Towards the end these choices however hard in the gathering are considered in the new mindset. While it is seen to evolve and accumulate throughout their is a knowing Paula played with drive and passion bearing fruit in every scene, by the exquisite multi faceted Laetitia Dosch whose companions in the action provide a superb robust support and ever pairing is special in some way. To name them would be be mildly patronising. There are several very, very solid performances which are needed to connect and deliver the levels reached by Laetitia Dosch in her emotional gymnastics and electric sound performance.
Very often the title such as Jeanne Femme is a prologue to a let down but here the title only introduces a very well gathered opening into the observed world of one young women after a breakdown. Never trivial but incredibly full of fun and light-hearted air filled space, the visual appeal is intimating the approach taken by a Paula who is – as cliches go – her own worst enemy except once ‘free’ so to speak after a very long and significant relationship is only concerned with being positive. A cat (Muchacha) gets much publicity and air time as a reclusive friend and foil. It is a female of exotic fussy tastes and contrast to, it has to be said, of the chameleon taste and forced re-identity moves Paula is forced into confronting.
This is a very brave and rewarding tale on just a view of feminine worlds and the multiple characters, many formed very robustly and assuredly, are thrown at the complex recalibration going on and shedding some more and valued insights along the way. The slate may be wiped clean but is it to be subject to putting down new markers and reinterpretation of the past and memory and how do the fates unfold. A lovely film and instinctively sharp delivering a very decent story of contemporary searches for self.
18 May 2018
On at Queens Film Theatre form 18 May until 24 May 2018
Not a widget!
To make a donation to the blog use