Jeune Femme

 

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A striking feature debut that arguably fails to sustain its impact.

 
Jeune Femme

Laetitia Dosch

 

This first feature from Léonor Serraille introduces us to a filmmaker possessed of a style that is all her own. Just as novel is the fact that one needs to mention at once that she works with Clémence Carré. That is because, despite Serraille being the sole director, Carré is not only her co-writer (along with Bastien Daret) but is the editor and in this case the way in which the film is edited is very much part of its individuality. All of that is welcome - as is the appearance of Laetitia Dosch, a relatively unfamiliar name, in the leading role. But, much less happily, the storyline is one that changes the character of the film in its last quarter. The success or failure of that could be a matter of personal taste, but for me the switch seriously damages the impact of a very interesting film.

 

Dosch as Paula Simonian is the young woman of the title, a 31-year-old living in Paris who, when we meet her, is at her most distraught having just broken up with her boyfriend, the photographer Joachim Deloche (Grégoire Monsaingeon), who has been her partner for some years. To introduce Paula like this is a risky tactic because, forceful and emotional, she is at her most neurotic and some viewers may have a negative response to her. But Dorsch is an unconventional presence and she instantly brings Paula to life - and that is of vital importance for a film which, eschewing a strong, developing narrative, appears to be offering us a portrait of a woman who has become a loner. The film may take place over a longer period but it so devotedly observes Paula in her situation - seeking and finding work, interacting briefly with others who may prove little more than passing strangers - that the movie evoked by Jeune Femme is Agnès Varda’s classic study of an individual in a rather different state of crisis (1962’s Cleo from 5 to 7). But Varda’s time-scale generated tension and a sense of shape lacking here and eventually that weakens the ability of Serraille’s portrait of Paula to sustain our interest to the full.

 

Other characters do take the eye, among them a lesbian (Léonie Simaga) who mistakes Paula for an old acquaintance, a work colleague (Souleymane Seye Ndiaye) who encourages Paula to adopt a fighting spirit and an independently-minded young child (Lila-Rose Gilberti-Poisot) whose mother (Erika Sainte) employs Paula to clean and to babysit. But these figures come and go in a way that makes our contemplation of Paula the crux of the matter as we try to assess her for ourselves. Interest in this is assisted by the film’s markedly personal editing style which, including jump cuts in one scene, is frequently unorthodox in favouring unexpected set-ups over a comfortable flow, thus making for a lively viewing experience.

 

But then a surprise upsets the boat. This comes when an unforeseen plot development converts the last section of the film into a quite different animal: a drama about Paula’s future which would only be effective if we knew more about her and about two of the other characters who now take on a new importance. A distant echo here of Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood (2014) reminds us of a film that by adopting a wider depth of focus involved us emotionally in its resolution as this piece fails to do. Consequently, by turning from a close-up study of Paula into a more conventional drama, this film seriously undermines its earlier qualities but they are substantial.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Laetitia Dosch, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Grégoire Monsaingeon, Léonie Simaga, Lila-Rose Gilberti-Poisot, Erika Sainte, Nathalie Richard, Audrey Bonnet, Agathe Desche.

 

Dir Léonor Serraille, Pro Sandra Da Fonseca, Screenplay Léonor Serraille, with Clémence Carré and Bastien Daret, Ph Émilie Noblet, Art Dir Valérie Valéro, Ed Clémence Carré, Music Julie Roué, Costumes Hyat Luszpinski.

 

Blue Monday Productions/Arte Cofinova 12/Cinéimage 11-Curzon Artificial Eye.
98 mins. France. 2017. Rel: 18 May 2018. Cert. 15.