Wednesday, March 9, 2022

All Is Forgiven (Tout est pardonée)


Writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve

actress Constance Rousseau

Mia Hansen-Løve





















ALL IS FORGIVEN (Tout est pardonée)                 A-                                                               France  (105 mi)  2007  d: Mia Hansen-Love

Mia Hansen-Love is a former actress first seen as a young teenager in Olivier Assayas’s Late August, Early September (Fin août, début septembre) (1998) and Les Destinées Sentimentales (2000), where they eventually lived together for fifteen years, though he is twenty-six years older, and had a daughter together, but separated in 2017.   For much of that period, it would not be wrong to suggest she was living under the shadow of Assayas, a more universally acclaimed artist who is among the best working French directors alive today.  This early film, however, suggests otherwise, largely overlooked at the time of its release, though receiving some recognition in France, premiering at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, a shared winner of the Louis Delluc Prize for Best First Film in France, but only now receiving its premiere release in the United States.  Both of Hansen-Love’s parents were philosophy professors, while she studied German and philosophy as well before studying at the Conservatory of Dramatic Arts in Paris in 2001, but after two years she dropped out to write film criticism at the prestigious Cahiers du Cinéma magazine, where Assayas also wrote, preferring the job of writing film criticism to any formal instruction at a film school like La Fémis. She admired New Wave directors, who created their own cinematic language, but at the age of 25, upon receipt of an advanced grant, she had the opportunity to direct her own film, knowing immediately this is what she wanted to do.  Perhaps her background in acting has profoundly influenced her filmmaking, which is character-driven in the truest sense, following a central character in nearly every scene over an extended period of time.  Her first film is a remarkable debut and a much stronger contender than first realized, striving for filmmaking transparency, avoiding flashy cinematic techniques in favor of a delicately subtle and more understated approach, already exhibiting familiar signs of her empathetic directing style, making emotional and intensely personal films, frequently semi-autobiographical, often blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality.  Notably, her stories begin focusing on one central character, but then unexpectedly switch to another after a calamitous event.  What’s particularly evident is her contribution to women’s cinema, creating her own progressive design that basically eliminates any patriarchal relationship with viewers, instead creating a naturalistic language of her own, tender and poetic, always writing her own films which become meticulously designed character studies, extremely humanistic, gently female-oriented, yet deeply felt, personal, and uniquely transformative.  Much like Assayas, she has an inspired use of music in her films, which play a crucial role in establishing mood and tonal assuredness, including a striking soundtrack in this film with a Scottish coal miner’s lullaby sung by a father to his daughters as he descends into the darkness of the mine that both opens and closes the film, Matt McGinn- Coorie Doon (miners lullaby) - YouTube (3:35), where the intelligence and lyrical quality of her films is reminiscent of Éric Rohmer, extremely well-written and well-acted, not nearly as wordy, but this first film has more of a raw, emotional intensity than her subsequent films, which stands out, as this is already a fully mature artist breaking into the cinematic landscape.  While few actually recognized her for the talent she was then and still is today, this first film deserves a healthy reassessment, as it may actually be her best film, where the beauty is in the accumulative details.  Hansen-Love is like a short story writer, as her films are measured, concise, and starkly personal, honing in on what matters, even if viewers themselves aren’t capable of appreciating the subtleties of her craft.  Many seem to have gotten bogged down by the subject matter, as prolific drug use onscreen may be a downbeat turnoff, but there’s more going on here under the surface.  For instance, why in every subsequent generation do healthy and intelligent artists turn to drugs, often to the point where it destroys their lives?  What does it say about self-esteem and a general regard for others?  How can someone get so wrapped up in themselves that all rationale ceases to exist?  Artists have always tested the margins, from Edgar Allen Poe to William S. Burroughs, including any number of rock musicians who died prematurely.  Certainly death plays a prominent part in their lives, routinely playing a kind of Russian-Roulette where their risk-taking is enormous, yet there’s a unique observation of the grim, under-the-surface desperation of life on the margins that makes this film different.  But all that is merely suggested in this film, as there are no villains in Mia Hansen-Løve films, and no easy answers, remaining non-judgmental, instead there is a blurring of reality where human beings struggle to adapt to their changing circumstances with varying degrees of success.  Dedicated to French actor and producer Humbert Balsan, who committed suicide in 2005, he was an early mentor who worked closely with this director and helped secure financing for this film.  His death may have served as a creative inspiration, as the flurry of letters at the end may, in fact, be her own testimonial and remembrance.

While the title has an almost theological implication, the full weight of the film suggests otherwise, as the director’s impressionistic observations of the interactions between adults and children are acutely convincing.  This film cleverly examines both mid-life and adolescent views within the same film, while also examining the ramifications of lives grounded in family and relationships suddenly fractured by domestic dissolution, where once you’re out of the protected cocoon of family, the real world has a tendency to lay emotional haymakers in your life.  At the time this film was made, nearly half (49.1 percent) of all French marriages end in divorce, suggesting marriage as an institution is in steep decline.  It follows a young woman in the throes of a destructive relationship, with an extremely healthy and positive-minded young daughter who observes everything.  Yet what distinguishes this film is the director’s choices of what to emphasize, writing nuanced characters within a world of the ordinary and mundane, where male characters have a strain of unreliability, yet she completely eschews melodrama, while the most dramatic events occur offscreen.  Set in Vienna in 1995, Victor (Paul Blain) is an intelligent and well-read Frenchman seemingly incapable of holding down a job, instead seen floundering as a failed writer and wayward husband while living with his colder and more reserved bourgeois wife, Annette (Marie-Christine Friedrich), and their charming six-year-old daughter Pamela (Victoire Rousseau).  What’s initially shown is an unforced tenderness of the characters, exhibiting a playful style with each other, yet Victor’s consumption of alcohol early in the day on his daughter’s birthday foreshadows his troubled disposition.  Later he makes an excuse to run an errand, meeting a friend where he can score drugs, a nearly Bressonian scene in its minimalist expression, as barely any words are exchanged, and no hint of his activity is communicated to Annette, though we see him locked in the bathroom afterwards for extensive periods of time.  Meeting up with his family on a late afternoon, crossing a bridge across the Danube River, he teases his daughter about the Reichsbrücke Bridge, which collapsed unexpectedly when it was 100-years old, a modern urban disaster.  While she’s clearly alarmed at the thought, her mother quickly reassures her that modern day bridges are built out of strong materials, and that “bridges are indestructible.”  Mother and daughter quickly walk ahead, leaving Victor behind in a brazen act of dismissal.  While Victor is close to his daughter, he is increasingly melancholic and addled by his addictions, putting their marriage under constant strain,  Among the more curious scenes involves a live piano performance by a cousin of Annette’s named Nektar (Elena Fischer-Dieskau, granddaughter of the famous German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in her only film role, herself a successful professional pianist) playing part of a Beethoven piano sonata as well as several pieces from Schumann’s 1848 Album à la Jeunesse at a family party in Vienna, with Annette observing open flirtation going on between Nektar with Victor, as she gives him a volume of German poems, which is quickly snatched by Annette, reading aloud as a means of inserting herself between the two. Eventually they move back to Paris, switching easily between German and French, hoping that back on familiar grounds it will cure a demoralized Victor of his doldrums, but his drug use becomes more frequent, including bouts of verbal and physical abuse.  Victor makes little attempt to find meaningful employment, while his previous work teaching literature at university level was sufficient to support his family, but he’s lost interest, consumed by idle time where instead his days are centered around morning writing, afternoon walks, and his evenings doing drugs, growing more and more isolated and distant.  He has a supportive sister, Martine (Carole Franck), urging him to come to her when he needs to talk instead of seeking solace or understanding from his conventional young wife.  Perhaps the scene of the film is their final breakfast together, with Pamela sitting at the head of the table eating cereal, with the camera staring straight at her, where you hear the crunch of each bite, yet those eyes are like a hawk, moving from one parent to the other, devouring every move as Victor quietly apologizes before Annette announces their intentions to leave him behind during Christmas holidays, reuniting with her family in Vienna.  (Ouch!)  Impossible not to notice a child’s drawing of the three of them happily together just over Annette’s shoulder, their lives forever changed by that one indelible moment.  Victor only grows more risky with his drug use, meeting a heroin addict named Gisèle (Olivia Ross), growing helplessly attracted watching her dance at a party to The Raincoats - Lola (from their 1979 album The Raincoats) YouTube (4:05), where he starts to share her habit, eventually separating from his family altogether and moving in with his drug dealer, Zoltan (Wieland Amand), only to awaken one morning to find Gisèle dead from an overdose.  This incident shocks him enough to seek treatment, never realizing the extent of his dependency, with Annette visiting him there, explaining she and Pamela would be moving out of the country, expressing her desire to never see or hear from him again.  Apparently that marital bridge is not indestructible.   

Reminiscent of Philippe Garrel’s cinéma vérité, dysfunctional relationship films, in particular his autobiographical drug escapades during the 70’s with Velvet Underground’s Nico in I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore (J'entends plus la guitare) (1991), though perhaps not as bleak or extreme, this more genteel break-up couldn’t be more refined and polite, with no shouting, and little to no animosity anywhere to be seen, yet the quietly devastating ramifications are deafening.  The 90’s looks surprisingly like the 60’s or 70’s, with fatalities and drug overdoses, where death is a prominent theme, yet what’s remarkable is what is left out, with open spaces filling in all the carefully constructed details and emotional connections that other films overlook.  The film jumps ahead 11 years, with Annette remarried to André (Pascal Bongard), consolidating her middle class position becoming curator of 19th-century decorative art at the prestigious Musée d’Orsay (one of the film’s sponsors), yet the perspective changes entirely to young teenage daughter Pamela (now played by older sister Constance Rousseau), an ordinary high school girl who prefers hanging out with friends instead of family.  While her stepfather appears to be a decent guy who doesn’t pressure her, he does announce that Martine, her father’s sister, has been trying to meet with her, which draws fierce resistance from her mother, who wants no part of that, but her stepfather is more open, allowing Pamela to decide for herself.  She’s the real victim of having split parents, yet appears to lead a comfortable life as she considers reestablishing a relationship with an absent father who mysteriously disappeared from her life under ambiguous circumstances.  Against her mother’s wishes, she decides to meet with her aunt Martine, revealing the anguishing extent she has gone through to bring about this reconciliation, as her mother blocked all previous attempts, destroying each and all letters attempting to reach out to her while turning her father into a vile creature that never wanted to see her.  Martine offers insights into her father’s previously deteriorating state of mind, never sugar coating it, suggesting drugs moved him to a dark place, helping him avoid the pressures of having to conform to normal ideals of marriage and masculinity, suggesting he’s more at peace with himself today, making his living as a writer, and lives not far away, having never left Paris.  When she finally meets him, he’s a re-energized and healthier person, indignantly countering his mother’s contention that he abandoned his family, yet most of the communication is unspoken, as they take long walks together, resembling the tracking shot style of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), with a handheld camera following their moving steps across a city landscape, a technique she revisits throughout her career, as protagonists are tracked across a multitude of locations, though dialogue is sparse or non-existent, with Pamela, unsure of herself, bringing along one of her friends.  While the time together is relatively brief, with no apparent revelations or breakthroughs, more of a testing out period, she clearly attempts to sift through the wreckage of her parents’ stormy relationship and mend fences with her long-absent father.  What follows is a flurry of letters written to each other, seemingly sparking an interest, where each can be seen reading the other’s letters.  But Hansen-Love doesn’t take the obvious path, preferring to change the focus, capturing the immediacy of the moment in two near wordless sequences that mirror one another, culminating in a short scene of Victor alone in his apartment, occupied by writing, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee, the window open, allowing a bright light to enter the room, as he is seen listening to music, apparently content, as he reclines on his bed to read a letter from his daughter.  Meanwhile Annette has taken her daughter to spend time in the country with her step-grandfather (Claude Duneton), expressed through scenes of pastoral beauty and an idyllic serenity, as she plays in a creek catching tadpoles with other younger cousins, acting in the role of big sister, living a normal life surrounded by people she loves, like a Renoir-driven Sunday afternoon in the French countryside, beautifully shot by cinematographer Pascal Auffray as the locale moves to the Corrèze, in the Limousin region, with a river running through it.  In this bucolic moment, she receives word that her father has died unexpectedly, another bridge that has collapsed, with no explanation of what happened.  Curiously, the film relies upon children for its resonance and closure, establishing a mournful tone through the exchange of letters and shared poetry, including a German poem on loss and rebirth, which is brought home by Hansen-Love’s artful final shot, following a quietly subdued funeral, where Pamela excuses herself from the family gathering in the countryside and wanders alone into a nearby forest, revealing a brief look at her mother’s own discomfort, unable to even discuss the matter, perhaps regretting the effect of divorce on her daughter’s childhood innocence, yet the camera remains fixed on Pamela as she slowly disappears from view.        

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