18 June 2002 | jandesimpson
A long journey to nowhere
Even the finest directors have their off-days. On the evidence of "La Dentelliere" alone, the Swiss Claude Goretta is a remarkable artist. Although he never quite achieved another work as sustained in its level of inspiration, there are some marvellous things in his Rousseau biopic "Chemins d'exile" and an admirably established sense of time and place in "The Death of Mario Ricci". But what to make of "La Provinciale" which ventures into "Dentelliere" territory by again exploring the theme of the "innocent" trying to come to terms with a disappointing world? Not that Nathalie Baye's "Girl from Lorraine" is as shy and defenceless as Isabelle Huppert's Pomme. At least she fights back when sexually harassed by a prospective employer even though it costs her a job and a few tears. "La Provenciale" has a wonderfully promising opening. During a time of economic recession, Christine decides to leave family and friends in the industrial heartland of eastern France to seek work in Paris. She leaves behind emotional security symbolised by the choir to which she belongs for a social milieu where nothing is guaranteed. Everything in this prologue is sharply observed so that we feel we know this girl and her background intimately. However from the point when she reaches Paris the film starts to lose its way through lack of narrative development. It becomes a series of episodic encounters, each one reinforcing Christine's disillusionment. a dirty-minded would-be employer, a businessman who puts a promotional prospect before romantic attachment, an alcoholic who is weary of living and a group of men at a country houseparty who use the women guests as pawns for their gambling. Always in a Goretta film the men behave badly to women who are often innocent to the point of naivety. If there is an additional message here it would appear to be that home is best. The problem is that it takes an awfully long time and a journey leading nowhere to say this. How much more rewarding was another provincial girl's journey to the big city in search of work, that of Carrie, William Wyler's eponymous heroine in his 1952 masterpiece. Now there was a journey that really led somewhere!