Souvenir

 

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A love story with music that initially seems an unlikely vehicle for Isabelle Huppert.

 
Souvenir

Isabelle Huppert and Kévin Azaïs

 

This French film from Bavo Defurne tells of a comeback by Laura, a singer who thirty years earlier had come second to ABBA in a competition analogous to the Eurovision Song Contest. Even those who recall Isabelle Huppert singing in François Ozon's 2002 film 8 Women may be surprised to learn that she has been cast as Laura. A possible comparison presents itself in that Meryl Streep startled her admirers by choosing to star in Mamma Mia! but, while the plotline of Souvenir could easily lend itself to a camp approach, that is not how Defurne, co-writer as well as director, chooses to handle it. Instead, Souvenir emerges as a rather charming old-fashioned romance.

 

At the outset we encounter Liliane Cheverny, she who had formerly performed under the name of Laura, working away at a dull job in a pâté factory. Very succinctly Defurne sketches in her current lifestyle: the work, the journey home by bus, the evenings spent alone watching television. But then a young man with ambitions in the ring as a boxer, Jean Leloup (Kévin Azaïs), is taken on at the factory and, because his father had been a big fan of Laura, he recognises the former singer. Others of his age would not do so since she had abandoned her career which had plummeted - as had her marriage to Tony Jones (Johan Leysen), the man who had been her manager and her composer as well as being for a while her husband. Liliane is not pleased to have been recognised but, despite the age difference, the growing rapport between her and Jean leads to an affair. Furthermore, it eventually results in Jean persuading Liliane that she could successfully resurrect her career by applying to compete again in the annual song contest that had once made her name. It's a move that finds her contacting Tony Jones again because she now needs new songs.

 

Souvenir is a lightweight work but one that for most of its length is so well made that it pleases. Huppert, fine as ever, takes her role seriously and delivers three songs effectively including not only Laura's old hit "Souvenir" but a new song, ‘Joli Garçon’, which is built up adroitly over several renderings. Azaïs makes a pleasing partner for her, his sincerity adding to the film's uncomplicated appeal. Less happily though, when the film approaches its climax, it suddenly chooses to go to another level and to play it all up: the clichés that now emerge in the narrative and the teasing manipulation of the audience's emotions would be in keeping if Souvenir were indeed the camp entertainment that it might have been but they jar with what it actually is. It's a shame that the tone shifts in this way since until then Souvenir has been an engaging low-key piece. One might feel that the material is strangely old-fashioned when judged as a work to attract Huppert, but the truth of the matter of is that the tale neatly incorporates social comment in its espousing of the belief that it's perfectly fine for a middle-aged woman to find love with a man in his early twenties. The film's popular tone doesn't mean therefore that it has nothing to say, so perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that Huppert embraced it.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Kévin Azaïs, Johan Leysen, Jan Hammenecker, Anne Brionne, Benjamin Boutboul, Sophie Mousel, Carlo Ferrante, Muriel Bersy, Thomas Coumans, Alice D'Hauwe.

 

Dir Bavo Defurne, Pro Yves Verbraeken, Bavo Defurne, Caroline Bonmarchand and Jean-Yves Roubin, Screenplay Bavo Defurne, Yves Verbraeken and Jacques Boon, Ph Philippe Guilbert and Virginie Saint-Martin, Pro Des André Fonsny, Ed Sophie Vercruysse, Music Thomas H. Lauderdale and Pink Martini, Costumes Christophe Pidre and Florence Scholtes.

 

Bonjour Pictures/Deal Productions/Frakas Productions/Avenue B Productions-StudioCanal.
90 mins. Belgium/Luxembourg/France. 2016. Rel: 23 June 2017. Cert. 12A.