Plot 35

 

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A strikingly unusual family history is revealed in this documentary.

 
Plot 35

 

Few films are as personal as this one which finds the French actor Éric Caravaca turning director for the second time as he explores the history of his own family. In particular, we are invited to join him as he tries to discover the truth about his sister Christine, a first-born child who died at the age of three in 1963. Even before we get to the credits, we see Éric's mother being questioned by him about this dead sister: he is wading in to break the web of silence on the subject, a silence maintained throughout the childhood of his brother Olivier and himself.

 

Looking back into family histories has become a staple of television, but this sample yields material that is immediately intriguing, including the fact that no photograph of the dead child has been lovingly preserved. Since Éric's mother makes clear her distaste over being questioned on camera in this way, we may ask if the film can justify this intrusion. However, what emerges is a history interesting on many levels, including the extent to which false memories, whether deliberately fostered or not, can persist over time.

 

At a mere 67 minutes Plot 35 (the title a reference to the grave in the French cemetery at Casablanca where Christine was supposedly buried) can hardly be said to outstay its welcome. Even so, despite holding our interest it ultimately doesn't quite explain to the full Éric Caravaca's need to share his discoveries with us by making a film. That reaction comes partly from the way in which he incorporates footage in ways that suggest that an extra significance will emerge but then fails to follow through. This applies, for example, to suggestions that the mother's refusal to accept the truth is akin to France deceiving itself over its actions in Algeria before that country obtained independence. And again, when the issue of how we regard people with Down's syndrome comes up, Caravaca seeks to shock us by including Nazi propaganda footage advocating euthanasia but then lets the subject fall to one side. Elsewhere, shots inside a catacomb yield some haunting images of individuals who died as children but still seem insufficiently justified.

 

In contrast to that, he spends too little time on other areas which would benefit from greater clarification. If the final shots of Christine's tomb do indeed show the mother there (the unnamed woman looks like her), then we certainly feel the need to hear more about what would seem to be a major change of attitude. Plot 35 is a film both interesting and individual, but the way in which Éric Caravaca (frequently heard but only rarely glimpsed) invites us to share his personal quest fails to satisfy fully for the reasons I have indicated. Caravaca has dedicated his film to the French director François Dupeyron who died in 2016.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Cathérine Caravaca, Olivier Caravaca, Éric Caravaca, Gilberto Caravaca.

 

Dir Éric Caravaca, Pro Laetitia Gonzalez and Yaël Fogiel, Screenplay Éric Caravaca, Ph Jerzy Palacz, Ed Simon Jacquet, Music Florent Marchet.

 

Les Films du Poisson/Laetitia Gonzalez/Yaël Fogiel/NiKo Film/Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Cinéma-ICA Films.
67 mins. France/Germany/Qatar. 2017. Rel: 9 March 2018. No Cert.