Fathers and sons are an age old subject for filmmakers (and even a standby for at least a few filmmakers), and although there are less films about women than men, mothers and sons and mothers and daughters are also pretty common (even if too many of the latter are banal comedies rather than serious dramas). The Day I Saw Your Heart, from director / writer Jennifer Devoldère, is the rarest breed: a father and daughter drama told primarily from the perspective of the daughter. It's a fascinatingly complex portrait of family dysfunction, poor communication, and the complicated emotions underneath it all.
Mélanie Laurent plays Justine, a lab technician in an X-ray clinic and would-be artist, currently living with her half-sister Dom (Florence Loiret Caille) and her husband Bertrand (Sébastien Castro). She's fickle when it comes to romance -- many remark about the five boyfriends she's gone through just in the last year --but things start looking up when she meets a shoe salesman named Sami (Guillaume Gouix). The only problem left in her life is that of her father, Eli (Michel Blanc), who she fights with constantly. Eli has just married a much younger woman, Suzanne (Claude Perron), and they're expecting a child, which frustrates Eli, who knows his relationship with his existing daughters is far from great. In order to work on his connection with Justine, he decides to become friends with her previous boyfriend, Atom (Manu Payet)...without telling Justine.
Wisely, Devoldère puts Justine and Eli together for some scenes at the beginning where their relationship is not the focus: the announcement of Suzanne's pregnancy, a tense lunch a few days later, then separates them, allowing them to fill in the blanks of their trouble relationship by talking to other people (Justine to Sami, Eli to Atom), allowing the audience to sympathize equally with both of them. Justine feels emotionally abandoned by Eli, who frequently criticized her as a child; Eli, meanwhile, simply doesn't know how to articulate his love for Justine, reserving his passion for golf for people like Atom and praise for Justine's art for her sister's ears. "Whenever I'm away, I find I miss them," he tells Atom, as if such an experience were mysterious and strange.
Unlike American romantic comedies, the failure of Justine and Eli to communicate is simple and personal. When Eli learns he needs to have an operation for his heart, he opts not to tell Justine about it becuase he feels she's stressed enough -- a quiet, fatherly move that tears at Justine when she finds out but seems so innocuous and random in the moment. Meanwhile, Devoldère artfully illustrates the functional communication between Justine and Dom in a sweet scene where Dom has learned she can't have children, and Justine begins listing all the powerful people in history who were adopted. Chemistry between Sami and Justine is handled with an equally delicate touch -- it's a sweet, casual connection, not a passionate love affair, and yet somehow that makes their connection even more potent. Laurent, carrying the movie, is bright and charming, giving the movie an effervescence that proves crucial.
As Eli's meddling in Justine's relationships come to a head and Justine moves into the home stretch of her art project, it seems as if there are only so many routes for The Day I Saw Your Heart to take that would keep the film on the same tonal track, but Devoldère takes a rougher road less traveled, and comes out the other side with a uniquely satisfying ending. The charms of the film are reserved, but the film has a sweet, authentic humanity from strong writing and an engaging lead performance, lifting it above most of its competitors.
The artwork for The Day I Saw Your Heart falls into that predictably lazy area of foreign film artwork: huge title, whatever recognizable face they've got in the cast, and some icons and generic images that go with the subject (in this case, hearts and X-rays). Beyond that, the art uses the standard Film Movement art template, which includes a couple of notes, in this case, from Film Movement on why they selected the film for their collection, and from the director. The disc is packed into a transparent Amaray case so that the notes can be read, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Film Movement's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of The Day I Saw Your Heart is exemplary. Colors are wonderfully rendered, black levels are deep and rich without any significant crush, and fine detail is very strong for a standard-definition release. I don't know if it's the lack of other significant content on the disc, or just skilled technicians at the company that handles their titles, but, much like Small Beautifully Moving Parts, the last Film Movement title I viewed, this looks fantastic.
French Dolby Digital 5.1 is strong, finding ambience and atmosphere in busy streets, crowded nightclubs, and the clinical sparseness of the equipment rooms in a doctor's office. The movie's light, poppy soundtrack is balanced and spread nicely across the soundscape, and dialogue is crisp and clear. English subtitles, of course, are also included.
As with all Film Movement titles, there are no film-specific extras, but a short film, titled "Don't Tell Santa You're Jewish (3:11). This silly little animation isn't very weighty, since it's so brief, but it's worth a smile or two. Image quality is a bit questionable -- some interlacing is visible.
Trailers for Found Memories, Corpo Celeste, Hospitalité, and a promo for Film Movement's subscription program play before the main menu.
Many films take the viewer on an emphasized emotional journey, one where the highs and lows are clearly defined. The Day I Saw Your Heart feels more ambiguous as the journey takes place, and resolves itself nicely in the end. Laurent is wonderful and there's an honesty lacking from many family comedy / dramas -- recommended for the adventurous viewer.
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