A woman is hammering on a door and shouting at the top of her voice. It’s deafening. We can’t see her face and whoever is behind the door is refusing point blank to let her in. Her anger escalates until she uses her head as a battering ram …..
The opening moments from Leonor Serraille’s first feature, Jeune Femme, hit you full square between the eyes. And, despite a title that makes you expect something light, frothy and generally jolie, you know from those first moments that’s not what you’re going to get. The woman giving so much grief to the apartment door is thirtysomething Paula (Laetitia Dosch). She’s just broken up with her long-term partner, but can’t let go. That head to head with the door results in a large gash on her forehead but, once treated in hospital, she manages to get back into the apartment to retrieve her few possessions and her beloved cat. Then, in a stolen coat which is way too big for her, she tries to make her way in a Paris which really doesn’t want to know her.
Having doors shut in her face is something of a bad habit for Paula. Even her mother does it. But it also makes for a telling recurring image. At the best of times, she’s volatile, unpredictable and generally difficult to live with. Now she’s having to live on her wits, she’ll do almost anything to get a roof over her head, food to eat and a job. Which she does – in fact, two jobs come her way – but it’s all based on a combination of tall tales and downright lies. And she’s very convincing. She’s also a survivor.
It’s that instinct for self-preservation that buoys her up as she goes into emotional freefall and helps her work through it. That gash on her forehead from the start of the film is always there, despite her efforts to disguise it, as a reminder of the break-up that put her on the streets and her extreme reaction to it. Yet her resilience is what makes Jeune Femme an unexpectedly uplifting and positive experience, despite everything that Paula puts herself through. That undercurrent of hope is always there, even when she’s at her lowest ebb and at her most vulnerable. One of her jobs involves babysitting a sulky, lonely girl, who eventually comes to adore her. All of which makes the character a dream role for Laetitia Dosch, who is on fire for the duration of the film – brilliantly compulsive, talking at a million miles an hour and grabbing your attention, even if she’s not always empathetic.
With its handheld camera work and occasional soundtrack, it’s often like watching a video diary. But the music, while sparse, is timed to perfection and its blues/jazz style is a great match for her lifestyle. Jeune Femme definitely has its dark side, but that’s counterbalanced with an equal amount of hope. If Paula can make it in unsympathetic Paris, she can make it anywhere, and find the stability she so desperately needs and craves. Her world isn’t rose-tinted, but it’s one with enough optimism and touches of humour to make for a deeply moving and all-too-human film. And a serious calling card from its director.
Freda Cooper |
Drama | UK, cinema, online, 18 May (2018) | Curzon | Dir. Leonor Serraille | Laetitia Dosch, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Gregoire Monsaingeon and Nathalie Richard.
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