2 August 2001 | pryorsmoustache
A brief look at a new French masterpiece.
Martha is a woman with problems. She is not the ideal mother for her daughter Lise, or the ideal wife for her husband Reymond : she taunts Lise with lines like "you spoil everything", and stays out at bars while Rey takes care of everything. Her childhood is never really disclosed, but she is shunned from her family, who regard her as some kind of an embarrassment.
The characters in this film are wonderfully fleshed out : Martha, who knows she is acting stupidly but can't stop herself; Lise, their intelligent daughter; and Reymond, the loving father who manages to keep it all together during the films intense third quarter.
This beautifully crafted character study is written with a humanist attitude. Every time you think Rey is going to leave, he pulls together and tries to create a world for his family again. It also boasts some of the most compelling scenes in contemporary cinema : witness the visit to Martha's sister's house; the moment by the river shared between Martha and Lise (you'll know it when you see it); and the unbearably touching Christmas scene.
The complex script is matched by extraordinary performances from all, particularly Yann Goven (Reymond), who brings an equal sense of pathos/heroism to his challenging role, which alone helps this film transcend it's possible miserablism. It also features, surprisingly for this genre, some gorgeous framing. The sparse use of music is also perfect.
A gritty contemporary neo-realist piece, this amazing film is about never giving up on people, no matter how dire the situation (indeed it is even dedicated to "the need for consolation").