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Dynamic screen presence Laetitia Dosch, star of Justine Triet’s Age of Panic, dazzles in this first feature from writer-director Léonor Serraille. It’s a superbly sympathetic and spikily comedic portrait of a young woman on the verge (or “under the influence”), struggling with the recently fractured shards of her personality. Fizzing with nervous energy (she can simultaneously engage and irritate, attract and repel), Dosch’s antiheroine is a wonderfully rounded character, awash with the kind of awkward contradictions so often ironed out on screen. As she pinballs around Paris in search of an identity, she endures a raggedy rite of passage that has been described by Serraille as a “metamorphosis … from a girl into a woman”, from “an object to that of a subject”.
We first meet Dosch’s 31-year-old Paula splitting her head open on a closed door. “You’re a free woman!” she’s told after breaking up with the photographer-professor for whom she was once a muse – although “unmoored” may be a better description. Escaping the doctors who think she’s self-endangering, Paula wanders the streets of “a city that doesn’t like people”. At times she seems like a vagrant: toilet roll in her hair, cat box at her side, scouring rubbish bins for food. Yet, like David Thewlis’s febrile loner in Naked, her homelessness is altogether more existential.
An image of Paula surveying her reflection in a broken mirror neatly encapsulates the tragicomic themes of Serraille’s film. Throughout Jeune Femme (titled Montparnasse Bienvenüe in some territories), Paula adopts different personae as she adapts to her changing environment. Applying for a job in an underwear store, this chaotic character hilariously describes herself as obsessively “tidy” and “calm”. When someone mistakes her for an old schoolfriend, she plays along, happy to be someone else. “Who are you?” she is asked repeatedly, evoking the chameleonic figure at the centre of Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight. Like Kristen Stewart in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper, Dosch’s Paula wears identities like outfits – trying them on to see how well they fit.
Some things are not so flexible. When Paula tells likable security guard Ousmane (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye) that his suit is the wrong size, he replies that “it can be changed. But your eyes are different colours – that can’t be changed.” He’s right: Paula may inhabit different roles, but the eyes through which she views the world (one iris is hazel, the other blue-grey) will always be beautifully mismatched, lending a Bowie-esque air to her alienation.
This is also a story about mothers and daughters, a theme crystallised in a brief channel-surfing moment featuring an iconic scene from Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life. In that 1959 film, a mother tells her radically reinvented daughter that she is still “my beautiful, beautiful baby, and I love you so much.” By contrast, Paula’s mum (Nathalie Richard) has barred her daughter from her home. “How come you never tried to find me?” Paula pleads when her mother claims that she left. Yet having blagged a job as a nanny (by pretending to be an art student), Paula develops a maternal bond with her young charge, Lila – a bond that seems to seep through generations. In a film full of mirrored moments, none is more powerful than the sight of Paula’s mother reaching out to touch her estranged daughter’s unruly tresses, chiming with a heartbreaking scene in which Lila lovingly brushes Paula’s hair.
There’s certainly a childlike quality to Paula (“You sounded under 18,” says a potential employer) as she gets knocked down only to get back up again. A soundtrack that juxtaposes jazz and electro captures her dissonant state of mind, romance underscored with a hint of tragedy. Emilie Noblet’s camera is handheld and in-your-face, lending a restless urgency to Paula’s perils as she moves through streets and subways, rooms and apartments. The takes are long but editor Clémence Carré is not afraid to cut to the chase, with jarring sound edits emphasising some jagged ellipses. Framing is crucial too; in one telling shot, Paula’s face is shoved to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, sidelined in her own movie.
The winner of the Caméra d’Or at last year’s Cannes festival, Serraille’s astringently bittersweet film was made with an all-female key crew, which the director insists wasn’t “a deliberate choice”, merely a gathering of a shared “collective energy”. That energy is tangible; this is a refreshingly invigorating and unvarnished character study, thrumming with anxious life. Bravo!
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Jeune Femme review – sparky identity crisis tragicomedy | Drama films