Reinventing Marvin

 

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A journey of discovery as a youth finds his way to adulthood and fulfilment.

   

Reinventing Marvin

Jules Porier

  

Anne Fontaine started out as an actress but is now best known in France as the director (and usually also as the writer) of sixteen feature films. Many have not been distributed here and, of those that we did see, such early pieces as How I Killed My Father (2001) and Nathalie... (2003) did not greatly appeal to me. More recently, however, I have found her work more persuasive: if Coco Before Chanel (2009) was good popular cinema, her 2016 venture The Innocents set in Poland was unexpectedly sombre and very impressive with it. Her latest work, Reinventing Marvin, falls somewhere between these two last mentioned pieces.

 

Written by Pierre Trividic and Fontaine, Reinventing Marvin show us how the eponymous Marvin (Finnegan Oldfield) puts behind him a tough working class childhood marked by bullying and sets out to find his true self in a meaningful way. I have seen some plot descriptions that seem to imply that this film is all about Marvin discovering through the help of a teacher, the sympathetic Madeleine Clément (Catherine Mouchet), that he has an acting talent and later as an adult proving it. This he does by becoming successful in the theatre not only as an actor but also as a playwright (he eventually shares a stage in Paris with Isabelle Huppert appearing as herself). But, in point of fact, the key issue here is that the boy realises that he is gay and has to escape into another world if he is to come to terms with his true identity (the bullying had involved fellow schoolboys humiliating him as a faggot while his father, a heavy drinker, was undoubtedly homophobic).

 

For much of its length Reinventing Marvin works very well, inevitably serious given its theme but considerably less grim than The Innocents. It is aided in this by its unusual structure which, rather than opting for a chronological presentation of Marvin's story, cuts back and forth between Marvin as an adult and the childhood scenes (quite substantial) in which he is played by Jules Porier. There is one point when one is disconcerted to find that a late episode involving the adult Marvin belongs to an earlier time in the narrative but, that case apart, this mix is well handled and gives welcome variety to the film. It looks good too, not just because it is well directed but on account of the colour photography by the veteran Yves Angelo.

 

It is relatively late on that doubts enter. Until then scenes have successfully linked Marvin's theatre interests    and the issue of his acceptance of his sexuality including his involvement at one stage with an influential older man (Charles Berling). Subsequently Marvin's success as an actor is credible given the belief shown in him by the likes of Madame Clément, but the play that he writes based on his own family experiences seems an unlikely hit. More seriously still, the later stages of the film make the father/son relationship central but in a way that does not ring true. Possibly Fontaine was trying to revert to the popular style of Coco Before Chanel but it just feels false. Up to that point, however, Reinventing Marvin is a work of quality and one which not only gay audiences will find well-acted and genuinely involving.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Grégory Gadebois, Vincent Macaigne, Catherine Salée, Jules Porier, Catherine Mouchet, Chalrles Berling, Isabelle Huppert (as herself), Sharif Andoura.

 

Dir Anne Fontaine, Pro Pierre-Alexandre Schwab, Philippe Carcassonne and Jean-Louis Livi, Screenplay Pierre Trividic and Anne Fontaine, Ph Yves Angelo, Art Dir Manu de Chauvigny, Ed Annette Dutertre, Costumes Elise Ancion.

  
P.A.S. Productions/Ciné-@/F comme Film/Mars Films/France 2 Cinéma/Drize Holding/Canal +/Ciné+-Peccadillo Pictures.
114 mins. France/Switzerland. 2017. Rel: 14 September 2018. Cert. 15