This is a film that gives people the opportunity to see French actress Adèle Exarchopoulos in another film, as she is notable for being one of the leads in the Palme d’Or prize winning film Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adèle, Chapitr... (2013), where both lead actresses were also awarded Palme d’Or prizes alongside the film’s director, the first time that’s ever happened. This is a much more traditional teen angst film, highly uneven, with signs the first time writer/director is in over her head, but it’s also a kind of audition or dress rehearsal for the suddenly infamous actress, and it may have been the role that got her the part, as the film has been released 6 month’s earlier in France than the Cannes prize winner. Like kids with iPhones stuck to their hands, Exarchopoulos plays Erell, a young teenage girl that carries her video recorder with her at all times, that is constantly filming friends and family members without ever asking permission, and through this documentary lens the director attempts to recreate an alternate reality existing within the present, one that does not fade from memory or alter its shape over time, but represents, at least to Erell, a kind of ultimate truth. Erell is in nearly every shot of the film, where her face is particularly camera friendly, though she’s always angry about having to live in a dead-end working-class town, believing she’s suffocating, where she hangs around with a group of boys, an oddball cast of eccentric characters reflective of the region, Gabin, Javier, and Fingers, mostly sitting around doing nothing, with one guy continually making up stories to impress others, while another thinks up ways to get back at a dog that bit off his finger, and yet another continually has designs on getting a tattoo.
Into this world walks Sarah (Adélaïde Leroux), Erell’s older sister, now 6-months pregnant, arriving unexpectedly at the door with her husband in tow after not being heard from in more than four years. The twist to the story is the contentious mother/daughter relationship between Erell and her terminally ill mother (Zabou Breitman) with MS, where Erell believes her mother is a tyrant, always ordering people around, and while she would like to spend more time with her mother, she’s always lying around in front of the TV. In Erell’s eyes, her mother uses her illness is an excuse for just about everything, but it doesn’t excuse the hostility directed towards her, especially since she believes her mother has always favored her older sister. Her father (Tchéky Karyo) is more easygoing and continually defends his wife, and while he realizes she can often make things difficult for people, he doesn’t believe she would intentionally be hurtful towards anyone. Nonetheless, the strained emotions between them that are always on edge are exacerbated by Erell’s accusatory tones, where she’s always pointing her camera in her mother’s face, even when she’s in no mood, always getting a negative reaction, which generates continuous friction in the home, with Erell receiving the brunt of the negativity. Since the mother can never get out of the house, all the activity inside the home has a claustrophobic feel where bodies and emotions are constantly bumping into one another.
The original music by Ronan Maillard and Troy Von Balthazar (from Chokebore, an American indie band) sounds cheesy at times, actually cheapening the naturalistic flavor of the film, while at other times, when the guitarist is actually sitting there strumming as Erell and the boys are just sitting around, it couldn’t sound better. While it’s a fairly slight coming-of-age story that doesn’t really address the complexity of the mother’s illness, but instead uses the severity of the illness in storyline only, offering little sympathy for what she’s actually going through, where she has to constantly remind people how sick she is, a fact ignored by most of the characters, including the filmmaker. Despite this major factor, the focus of the film shifts all sympathies toward the plight of Erell, ignoring her rather irresponsible point of view, literally blaming her mother for feeling and acting bad, as she is in complete denial throughout about her mother’s illness, making the stereotypical teen flight for freedom, in this case, feel rather hollow. While France exports only the top tier of their films made each year, the bulk of their industry output produces more conventional and less inspiring efforts that only play in France. Were it not for the name of Exarchopoulos, this all too familiar film would hold little interest abroad.