Before screening "Mères et filles" I had seen only one of the four films signed Julie Lopes-Curval and I did not expect the shock I experienced here. All I remember of "Bord de mer" (2002) is a moody stagnant atmosphere, good acting, the importance of women in the story and a seaside location. Sure the apple doesn't fall far from the tree and there are common points in the writer-director's world: the seaside place (here, the Arcachon Basin has replaced the Bay of Somme),the all-importance of women (even more obvious in "Mères et filles") and excellent acting (Bulle Ogier, Ludmila Mikaël, Hélène Fillières, Jonathan Zaccaï in the first film; Catherine Deneuve, Marina Hands, Marie-Josée Croze, Michel Duchaussoy in the second). But "Bord de mer", although the sensitive account of small town life, did not generate much enthusiasm. By comparison, "Mères et filles" , a striking description of a dysfunctional family, proves much more powerful: it moves you deeply - even upsets you - while, thanks to a brilliantly structured screenplay, it keeps you glued to your seat throughout. And that is not all, for the film also functions on the symbolic level. Indeed, telling a story that concerns granddaughter, mother and grandmother allows Lopes-Curval to reflect on the condition of women the day before yesterday, yesterday and today. How does Julie Lopes-Curval manage to achieve such a feat? Through talent of course (she has made much progress since 2002),through the choice of the ideal actors and finally through an apparently simple but actually complex script.
"Mères et filles" tells the story of Audrey (Marina Hands, unaffected and intense),pregnant and living in Canada, who visits her parents (Catherine Deneuve, aggressive and disturbed; Michel Duchaussoy, easy-going and understanding) in the seaside town where she was born. Finding it hard to put up with her mother, Audrey settles in the house of her grandparents. There she discovers the diary once written by her grandmother Louise (Marie-Josée Croze, whose restrained performance makes her character all the more moving). Audrey then comes to learn the story of this woman who gave up her family, left, and never returned. Determined to know the truth she causes a crisis in the family.
Julie Lopes-Curval's story is in no way exceptional and had it been told in flash-backs, it might have been just another film but "Mères et filles" plays in another league.Where it breaks new ground it is by making the scenes in the past the figment of Audrey's subjectivity. As a result, whenever we think we know the truth, this "truth" is challenged until another one is revealed, and so on until the final revelation. Such a device makes the film exciting from the beginning to the end and prevents it from remaining dryly theoretical or boringly gushy.
Amazingly well played (Deneuve, for instance, is at her best as Martine, a doctor who can support her patients but is unable to sympathize with her loved ones),very realistic (by way of example, the rows between Deneuve and Hands ring terribly true) and relevant (my own mother went through an ordeal similar to Louise's in the nineteen fifties with a husband who killed her slowly),"Mères et filles", is a success in every department and is -it goes without saying - recommended.
Audrey moved to Toronto ten years ago for a job. Upon news that she, single, is pregnant, she makes a last minute decision to return to her French coastal hometown for a few days to contemplate her situation. Her initial thought is to get an abortion when she returns to Toronto, as she and the father, Tom, an artist, are no more than just friends, both who are nowhere close to being equipped to be parents or a permanent couple. The trip is also despite she having just been assigned a big project at work, which means this trip will be a working vacation. In France, she will be staying with her parents, Michel, an optician with his own business, and Martine, a general practitioner, both who she doesn't plan to tell about her pregnancy. Audrey and Martine have always had a difficult relationship, Audrey who feels that nothing she does is good enough or proper enough for emotionally cold and judgmental Martine. Instead of staying with her parents, Audrey, who wants the peace and quiet of being alone, decides to stay at the closed-up house of her recently deceased maternal grandfather, Gilles, who was a tailor with his own shop in his working life. Martine and her younger brother Gérard have decided to keep the house for the time being, it their childhood home. There, Audrey discovers a notebook that belonged to her maternal grandmother, Louise, who abandoned the family when Martine and Gérard were children, Louise who was never seen by the family again. After Louise's abandonment, Gilles immediately burned all her possessions, leaving nothing now for Martine and Gérard as keepsakes of their mother. The notebook is both a cookbook of what were Louise's favorite recipes, but also her journal, she describing how stifled she feels in her life, despite loving her children. The notebook is also stuffed with several family photographs and a large wad of money. Thus, the notebook becomes a mystery about Louise for Audrey: why she didn't take it and especially the money when she left. Audrey speaks to some people who may be in the know, such as Gilles and Louise's longtime neighbor Suzanne, who admits she didn't know them well. But Audrey is largely guided by Louise's spirit, which fills the house and notebook. In making certain discoveries and as she goes through her early pregnancy, Audrey may find greater peace in her strained relationship with her mother, who Audrey does not plan to tell bout the book in Martine's possible hurt feelings toward her mother.—Huggo
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