Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2018 6:11 pm 
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Noémie Lvovsky's intimate and knowing portrait of the love between a young daughter and her mad mother

This new film by the cinematic powerhouse Noémie Lvovsky (who acts, writes, and directs) is a poetic reflection of her own past as the loving and loved child of a mother whose touch on reality was never strong and growing weaker. The film was threatened with cancellation when more than half done after the young star Lucie Rodriguez, who plays Mathilde the daughter to Lvovsky's mother, had to permanently withdraw due to foot surgery. The film was saved by cutting out a hunk of the scenario and injecting an adult Mathilde. Anaïs Demoustier, a young actress with an impressive CV (Bird People, for one) took on this role - and bears a remarkable resemblance to Rodriguez.

One French critic (Nicolas Marcadé, Les Fiches du Cinéma) says Lvovsky curbs here her usual wildness as a writer. Perhaps. Nonetheless, the film's eccentricities create a distance that make it unrelatable at first. Mathilde is first seen in a meeting between her teacher and her mother, who spends the entire time wondering how to say most elegantly in French, "I didn't know what this meeting was for." As she leaves she turns back and tells the teacher, "I'm not a good mother." The teacher answers, "I'm sure you are doing the best you can." Yes but that's not very good, as we now learn. Next Mathilde's mother doesn't come home till very late and when she does, arrives disheveled in a wedding dress and veil she has bought at a department store. Her husband (Mathieu Amalric, excellent) has moved out some time ago.

This is no ordinary depression. Mathilde's mom lives in another world, one we never enter, and she often literally wanders off. Mathilde has to fix her own meals. She takes refuge not in school, which she doesn't like, and where the other kids make fun of her, but in her own fantasies. When her mother gives her a small pet owl, the bird - as well-realized a character as the film has - the owl, for Mathilde, develops a full-throated human male voice (Micha Lescot) and talks to her; his advice at some points turns out to be crucial. Mathilde, who is dressed in beautiful brightly colored elegant French children's clothing, is moved to steal the school's instructional skeleton and bury it in a park, with all due ceremony.

All this seemed a skittish and frivolous approach to madness. But by the end of the film, one realizes that Lvovsky knows whereof she speaks and one has got a keen sense of the helpless feeling the child of a mad but much loved and cherished parent is like. And the mother played by Lvovsky with a mix of warmth and distance becomes a very real presence.

The turning point for me comes when Mathilde, in a fury of rage and frustration at her mother's failure to come home for the Christmas dinner she has tried and failed to prepare, sets fire to the living room curtains. Only the owl's frantic instructions save the flat. It's a remarkably achieved sequence, and finally it all begins to seem serious and real.

Things get so bad, Mathilde's father comes to the flat to help move her mother to a sanatorium in his modest car as is her mother's wish. Tellingly, she informs him she has seen this coming at least as far back as before Mathilde, who is nine, was born. This sequence is a kind and tender one.

There are no histrionics in this film, and there is no sentimentality. This admirable restraint makes up for passages, like the owl-to-daughter dialogue, that fail to convince.

Demoustier's young adult Mathilde visits her mother at the asylum and their sympathetic dance in the rain is a metaphor for their enduring communication and love. Lvovsky has said in an interview in Libération athat her late mother's memory is so alive she could "still draw the shape of her fingernails." "She was a poetic personality, very intelligent, like an ascetic, incapable of having a social life. She made me tink of Marguerite Duras."

Tomorrow and Thereafter/Demain et tous les autres jours, mins., debuted as the opening night film at the Locarno Festival, Aug. 2017. It opened in French cinemas 27 Sept. 2017 to only fair reviews (AlloCiné 3.2), but critics nonetheless said kind things. Screened for this review as part of the New York UniFrance and Film Society of Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Mar. 2018.

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