It is hard to tell what makes La Petite Lili an intriguing watch. Is it the fact that the film is more likely to be considered a theatrical play shot with a camera, or the fact that it is an adaptation of the famous Chekhov work The Seagull, or perhaps the fact that the cast teams up some well-established French actors (Jean-Pierre Marielle, Bernard Giraudeau) with some exciting newcomers (Ludivine Sagnier, Robinson Stevenin, Julie Depardieu).
The Seagull, a comedy play in four acts which Chekhov wrote almost a century ago is used by famous French auteur Claude Miller (L'Effrontee, Alias Betty) as a premise for his not entirely accurate modern adaptation-La Petite Lili. We see a group of professionals that obviously know the ins and outs of the film business on a beautiful estate somewhere in Brittany. Within an hour or so (the duration of the actual play Claude Miller has directed) we learn about Lili (Ludivine Sagnier) and her aspirations to become a successful actress, Julien (Robinson Stevenin) and his evolution as a film director, Brice (Bernard Giraudeau) an actor-business insider, Mado (Nicole Garcia) the unsatisfied social butterfly, and Simon (the charming Jean-Pierre Marielle) who by all means appears to be the voice of reason within a crowd where egos and secret yearnings very much dictate what we are going to witness on the big screen.
I think that those who approach La Petite Lili with an open mind most certainly will realize that this is a multi-layered work offering a number of exciting twists. If you however seek to find where, how, and to what extent the film truthfully reflects Chekhov's play I believe you will be utterly disappointed. Claude Miller has used his right to reinterpret The Seagull in a very unique way that may upset some of Chekhov's hardcore admirers. Certainly the drama and finesse of the story are well-preserved but the subtlety of the characters we are introduced to is lacking quite a bit. I think that they all act, converse, and criticize each other in a manner that anything but suits Chekhov.
On a positive side La Petite Lili could be an entertaining viewing experience if you enjoy seeing European films where character study is the core around which the acting is built upon. Little by little we begin to care about Julien and his director's ambitions, Lili and her film career, and Briss and his bold affair with Lili. As a result I don't find the film to be a tiny bit boring. If anything, I would have loved to see a bit more of the struggle each of the protagonists undergoes during the second act of La Petite Lili.
The most intriguing part of Claude Miller's adaptation in my opinion is the third and final act where we see each of the main characters playing themselves in a piece written by Julien. There are plenty of emotions defying their complex personas and what they symbolize in this story. The masterful eye of Claude Miller successfully captures joy, disappointment, jealousy, and certainly pain in the eyes of the "actors" as their stories are being told as part of Julien's script. But do they really act what the script requires or do they convey what their hearts truly feel?
How Does the Disc Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 La Petite Lili is not enhanced for widescreen TV's (though other reviewers claim it to be). The print is obviously PAL-sourced and with a heavy amount of "ghosting". On a positive side I would assume that the French, non-English friendly disc, is in perfect condition as the picture quality I see on the R1 DVD suggests immaculate R2 master. Unfortunately, First Run Features have gone way out of their way to make La Petite Lili a disappointing experience adding even the obligatory for such presentations forced English subs (the subs are burnt-in). In a nutshell: a typical disappointing treatment of a foreign film by a North American distributor.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Once again a very unimpressive treatment (not that I expected to see a DTS track as the film does not necessitate one) but a 5.1 track would have been a nice and deserving addition, there is some beautiful music in La Petite Lili after all.
Surprisingly First Run Features have added up a few extras that would have complimented the film rather nicely…but what is the point... after all the main feature is presented in a more than a disrespectful manner.
Interview with Claude Miller-
Interview with Ludivine Sagnier-
Here's the reason I am most annoyed by First Run Features-someone in this company clearly has a good taste in foreign films and knows how to select titles that would appeal to foreign film aficionados. But why the amateurish treatment? If anything I would think that as a distributor in a niche market they would go the extra mile and make sure that their DVD presentation is not only acceptable but...it is top-notch to say the least. People that are interested in foreign cinema are also likely to investigate all possible options and acquire the best possible version (read: non-PAL-NTSC direct transfers and progressive anamorphic transfers), I know I would.
With this said, I am enormously disappointed (yet again) that a film I was very much looking forward to has been bastardized with such a poor transfer. I guess it hurts even more knowing that La Petite Lili was screened right here at home in Chicago during the Chicago International Film Festival where Ludivine Sagnier won the Best Actress Award. I suppose all hopes are crushed now….Rent it.