I don’t know whether anyone reading this has had a chance to catch the TV series, In Therapy (Season 1 is currently still available on SBS on Demand) where we follow a group of individuals’ therapy sessions. It is a brilliant concept, told in 35 half-hour episodes; five patients anchored by the central figure of therapist, Philippe Dayan (Frédéric Pierrot); and week after week they become more familiar to us, their sessions reveal as much about them as they do about Philippe. This is a wonderful character-building exercise; the scripts are intelligent and endearing; never exploitative, nor do they play for dramatic highs and lows.
Though the patients were there for different reasons; two of them, a trauma surgeon, Ariane, played by the very gifted Mélanie Thierry, and special response officer, Adel (Reda Kateb), recounted their respective and continued difficulties in dealing with their very different but equally harrowing experiences the night of the Bataclan attacks in Paris; 13th November 2015.
It was their words that came back to haunt me throughout the early sequences of Cédric Jimenez’s very successful blockbuster, November. It was as though the experiences of Ariane and Adel had provided me with the context for this film. Their stories have provided me with a different approach which added to my experience of the film. Although November is an ‘action’ film (and not my usual genre of choice), it has an important story to tell; whether it accurately followed the event or not; there were very few Hollywood moments – sure, there were cars speeding through traffic, heavy artillery used and some staged moments (like having phones start ringing one by one to signal a catastrophe) – the film remained respectful in the way it avoided portraying what occurred that night as entertainment. The terrorist attack that killed 130 people, and injured hundreds, was not made a spectacle – there were no gratuitous scenes. Instead, Jimenez focuses on the intense work of the operatives in the five days that followed; and the successful capture of the attackers.
Jean Dujardin (also in Denis Imbert’s On the Wandering Path in this year’s AFFFF) is Fred, head of the anti-terrorist unit in Paris; and he is an absolute star in this film – being in the control seat clearly suits him. Anaïs Demoustier, Sandrine Kiberlain, Lyna Khoudri and Jérémie Renier were all solid in supporting roles.
Perhaps what I liked most about this film is that the narrative, editing, pacing, and acting were of a very high standard, the steel blue colour palette was fitting, bringing everything into sharp relief. It made me think of the blue hour, as well as that blue-tinged pallor of skin – sans sang.
Of the 6 films I’ve seen so far at this year’s Alliance Française French Film Festival, all have been influenced or developed through either a personal experience or have been based on a real life event. There seems to be a renaissance in French cinema these past few years to imbue films with something drawn from the directors’ own lives, or, to remember the personal in the fiction. This element is very close to the style of French writing that I have always loved and sought out to read – Duras, Ernaux, Roubaud, Barthes, Cixous, these writers all interweave the intimate into the literary.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s One Fine Morning is of this ilk, and perhaps that essence, of something true and authentic, is what makes this film so very palpable: the texture of the personal leaves a trace on the celluloid (even digitally). The film is dedicated to her father Ole Hansen-Løve, who was a philosophy professor, and this film chronicles two very divergent events that happened in Hansen-Løve’s life concurrently: the slow deterioration of her father’s mental and physical health; and the beginnings of a new love in her life. Ole passed away early on during the Covid pandemic and this was a daughter’s love letter to him.
Léa Seydoux (charming, raw and subtle) is Sandra Kienzler; a single mother who works as a translator in Paris; her father, Georg (portrayed movingly and very beautifully by an ageing Pascal Greggory), a former philosophy professor, has been diagnosed with Benson’s Syndrome (a neuro-degenerative disease) and can no longer live alone. It was a difficult decision for Sandra to put him into a nursing home; and even more trying for the family when he was shunted from hospital to hospital, nursing home to nursing home; before they finally found a place for him at the Ehpad Résidence Les Jardins de Montmartre (the four shown in the film were places that were familiar to Hansen-Løve; who remarked in an interview, how precious as well as emotional it was, to be in rooms where her father had once been).
Just as Sandra’s life was unravelling, she met, by chance, Clément (Melvil Poupaud – who was also in Brother and Sister in this year’s AFFFF); an old friend – he was picking up his son as Sandra was watching over her daughter. They began an affair that brought joy, but also heartache to Sandra’s already complicated life.
There’s a real sense of family in this film, Sandra with her wonderfully funny and gorgeous daughter, her sister and family. Her mother (Georg’s ex-wife) is wonderfully portrayed by Nicole Garcia – a strong matriarchal type and all seem close and tightly knit. There’s something very intimate when watching family dynamics at work; and during the shoot, Hansen-Løve was very precise through the many takes she shot when working with her actors; as though there was an exact scenario inside her head that needed to be captured on film. There is an especially touching scene where the family is gathered to pack away Georg’s apartment after he went into the nursing home; they were deciding what to do with his library – so many books, but none of which he had written himself (Sandra’s daughter wondered why they would keep his books). In this moment, I also wondered what my children would do with N’s and my library…Sandra put it into perspective to her daughter; that it matters little her father didn’t write those books – that he chose them was enough – because of his choices, and having read these books, it shaped him and made him into the father she knows and remembers.
And perhaps, that is how I would also like to be remembered when I die; by words, thoughts and images which have come together to shape me…
The Alliance Française French Film Festival has concluded in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth . It continues in other states until 23rd April.