As an actor, Jeanne Balibar has done fine, intelligent work for decades with directors ranging from Jacques Rivette to Pedro Costa: I last saw her in Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables and this movie is set in the same Montfermeil district, partly among the high-rise blocks around which Ly sent his video-drone floating, although this film makes it looks a lot more homely. This is Balibar’s first solo directing credit (she co-directed the experimental piece For Example Electra in 2013 with Pierre Léon) and it is a genuine oddity: a four-leaf clover of a film, or maybe five leaves. You might call Wonders in the Suburbs an absurdist pastoral fantasia – suburban pastoral anyway – or maybe a Midsummer Day’s comedy.
Among the superstar French cast, Emmanuelle Béart gives a spirited, uninhibited performance as a liberal mayor elected on a radically experimental ticket: she has pledged to introduce statutory adult nap times (to counteract our frenetic money-grabbing work ethic), subsidised rooftop gardens, new language courses to promote diversity and wacky one-off events such as Kilt Days when all the men must wear kilts.
Her chief of staff is Joëlle (Balibar), a music-and-movement therapist who wants to promote physical group improv sessions. She is getting divorced from her husband, fellow political administrator Kamel (Ramzy Bedia), over various personal issues including anal sex, and newly-single Kamel wants a real-life meeting with the slinky woman he has been contacting via the Second Life website: this virtual girlfriend indicates she loves Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate (as opposed to, say, piña coladas and getting caught in the rain).
What a very odd, and yet weirdly likable film: it’s almost an anti-Ballardian drama. Where JG Ballard might have found a chaotic, entropic rush towards violence in this community, Balibar finds an eccentric sort of utopianism. There is charm in it, of a baffling sort.
Source: The Guardian