Movie: French director Claude Miller is not particularly well known among the masses here in the United States even with interesting movies under his belt like Mortelle Randonnee. While not his best work, it was a fine character study done in noir form about a man obsessed with a beautiful criminal mastermind, hoping against all hope that she was his long lost daughter. While the movie has a somewhat tragic ending, Miller is not an overly predictable director, switching styles like some change fashions for dinner. In another recently released oldie of his, L'Effrontee.
The movie is a coming of age story about a young thirteen-year-old French girl, Charlotte Castang (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who lives in a blue class town in the city of Savoie. Like most girls that age (anywhere on the planet too), she is a drama queen who hates her life, her school, her peers, and just about everything else the world has to offer. Her mother died when she was an infant so she takes her frustrations out on her troubled father, their housekeeper, and her only friend, an even younger gal Lulu (Julie Glenn). Lulu has an illness so she doesn't socialize much outside this little circle either, a matter of convenience for Charlotte.
It's just before summer and poor little Charlotte is stuck at home while most of the other children in town are going on vacation. Her brother leaves shortly thereafter and her turn will be the following month, and stuck with her father too. In a dead-end town with little excitement going on, Charlotte feels trapped by her circumstances and acts like a rat in a cage. A homely gal, her life seems meaningless and she irritates everyone she meets except one gal, Clara (Clothilde Baudon), a concert pianist traveling through town.
Charlotte sees in Clara all the qualities she think she'd like to have; an attractive face, the attention of everyone, traveling all over the countryside, and a life of glamour awaiting her as she grows older. In her own life, she sees the world as brusque and harsh, with nothing to offer her now or in the future. In an effort to escape her dull life, she fantasizes about joining Clara on tour, forgetting that fantasies have a way of not turning out as we plan. Better than that, she learns that the grass isn't always greener on the other side of the fence as well as the trappings of success aren't always so swell.
I'm not going to spoil the movie for anyone by giving a detailed synopsis of it. Suffice it to say that I've seen dozens upon dozens of coming of age movies over the years and a great many of them are written by people that must be so old that they've forgotten the trials and tribulations youth go through. This one had the ring of truth to it on so many levels that I really can't begin to dissect it for fear of leaving out major portions it got right. The direction, acting and writing were all well done to the point that the truths would apply to everytown USA as much as the obscure little burg in France that the movie was set in.
For all its merits, it had some minor flaws as well. Most of them were related to the continued droning of Charlotte's worries but there were times when I wondered why her family didn't just send her off to boarding school (more than once). I'd have liked to see Clara tell Charlotte more openly how the glamour life was not all it was cracked up to be as well but the subtleties of that thread were present enough to make the point. For all the good points, I have to rate this one as Highly Recommended. If you don't mind subtitles, foreign movies, and stories that are a bit offbeat, you'll probably enjoy this one a lot (just like I did).
Picture: The picture was presented in 1.78:1 ratio widescreen color. There were some print scratches on the film, some minor compression artifacts, and some minor bits where the colors were off a touch but overall it looked very clear for a movie made on a low budget in 1985 France. The content was good enough that few would notice the visual flaws here.
Sound: The audio was presented in stereo French with optional English subtitles. There wasn't a lot of separation between the channels but the vocals and music seemed to be clear, if unremarkable. The subtitles were easy to read and appeared to be complete with no obvious dead space between them when the cast was talking.
Extras: The best extra was a short four minute long interview with actress Charlotte Gainsbourg (the lead character of the movie) made when the movie came out in 1985. There was also a trailer to the feature and some filmographies. In short, there weren't a lot of extras.
Final Thoughts: While the technical aspects were not exceptionally brilliant and the extras somewhat lackadaisical, the feature itself was very entertaining. Every facet of the story seemed to ring true and it looks like Miller knew what he was doing in this one, just as in Mortelle Randonnee, even though they are completely different movies in all ways (except maybe in the level of detail that Miller includes). It's not a perfect movie but it sure was a darned good one to suggest watching.