Thursday, October 17, 2013


SUZANNE            B+  
France  Belgium  (91 mi)  2013  d:  Katell Quillévéré       Website

Quillévéré’s earlier film, LOVE LIKE POISON (2010), is a beautiful coming-of-age story, one that reflects a rare insight into the mindset of female youth, often using superb choices of music to expand the depth of character.  Along with Xavier Dolan, the Canadian French-speaking wunderkind from Montreal, both are among the best of the new directors in probing the interior worlds of today’s youth, where Dolan uses more experimentation, such as wildly colorful artificiality mixed with heavy doses of realism, continually changing the film speed, literally immersing the audience in music, along with shifting moods and atmosphere.  Quillévéré is often harsh, brutally honest, heavy on the stark realism in this French working-class drama, but ultimately generous, reaching for a poetic intimacy with her characters, where both use music and novelesque detail to accentuate complexity, ambitiously covering 25 years here in just 90-minutes, where what’s left unsaid or the spaces in between scenes often express more than words could ever do, which means both directors rely upon powerful performances, giving the audience something they’re not used to.  That is certainly the case here, which has one of the more beautifully photographed openings, as it’s a colorful montage of exuberant young kindergarten age girls getting dressed up in red, sequined costumes and feathers in their hair, along with sparkle on their faces, just before they give a dance performance.  It’s exactly the sort of thing every young girl experiences and it’s a moment to be showcased publicly in front of eager parents with their cameras, where applause and approval greet them afterwards, where it’s a wondrous expression of the innocence of happiness. 

Jump ahead ten years, Suzanne (Sara Forestier) and her younger sister Maria (Adèle Haenel) are flirtatious teenage girls living with their widowed father, (François Damiens), who’s often away for extended durations driving a truck, but we also see times when he picks them up after school in his truck, where the warm enthusiasm shows.  They are a close-knit family, where the two girls do everything together, always looking out for one another’s interests, while they also join their Dad on regular visits to their deceased mother’s grave.  What quickly develops is Suzanne has a mind of her own, often at odds with everybody else, including her father, where her idea of independence is not having to listen to anybody tell her what to do.  When she gets pregnant, letting the school inform her father, as she hates confronting him, their relationship instantly deteriorates.  Jump ahead five more years, where Suzanne and Maria are seen frequenting bars hauling around her son Charlie, often asleep on her shoulder, but he’s passed around whenever someone wants to get up and dance.  When she meets Julien (Paul Hamy), something of a punk gangster with a flair for gambling, irresponsibility, and leaving out the important details, where he tends to get in trouble, often having to leave town on the spur of the moment.  When it’s time to make a quick dash, Suzanne leaves Charlie behind, where she doesn’t see him for another several years, but hears that he’s living with a foster family from her attorney inside a prison cell.  Without providing any backdrop of this development, the news is received like an emotional cluster bomb, where she literally drops from the impact.

Forestier’s strength is never overplaying any scene, showing quick bursts of infuriorated emotion followed by an immediate attempt at a getaway, usually protected by her sister, where she doesn’t stick around for the lectures or moralizing.  Her dizzying love affair with Julien went from being a deliriously rapturous expression of never wanting to say goodbye to never being mentioned again, but when she receives a necklace from him she literally melts.  She’s an emotional whirlwind of changing moods, a wandering soul that follows her heart and her desires at the expense of everything else, where the audience may be as exasperated with her as her father, but the director always presents her in a non-judgmental light, where the film continuously explores her unique qualities that make her what she is.  When her father has to sit in court and listen to the unending list of charges being made against her, none of which she denies, it’s an utterly devastating moment, as this is not the vivacious little girl we saw in the opening shot.  Co-written by the director and Mariette Désert, this is a stunning exposé of indefatigable strength followed by incredulous naïveté, where she’s instantly elated or sullenly depressed, but never for a second does she express vanity or pretension.  The bracing scenes of realism with the intoxicating allure of love have rarely been captured with this degree of melancholic immediacy, eventually leading to pure heartbreak, where Quillévéré creates sympathy for a woman who would otherwise typically be seen as an outcast.  The hauntingly atmospheric music composed by Verity Susman from the all-girl English band Electrelane offers an impressionistic palette, where this beautifully observed, pieced-together drama has a way of rendering its full impact at the end, once we get a fuller picture of her life, where music high priestess Nina Simone sings the Leonard Cohen song live at Montreaux over the end credits, seen here in Rome 1969 at the Teatro Sistina Nina Simone - Suzanne (Live) - YouTube (6:28). 

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