A Wonderful Spell
- 1h 50min
Set in the summer of 1942 during WWII, the film traces the trajectory of simple people thrown into extraordinary lives, revealing the heart-warming flame of hope and humanity that endures, e... Read allSet in the summer of 1942 during WWII, the film traces the trajectory of simple people thrown into extraordinary lives, revealing the heart-warming flame of hope and humanity that endures, even in times of war and dispair. As young Julien, his family and a group of friends traver... Read allSet in the summer of 1942 during WWII, the film traces the trajectory of simple people thrown into extraordinary lives, revealing the heart-warming flame of hope and humanity that endures, even in times of war and dispair. As young Julien, his family and a group of friends traverse the French countryside after fleeing the institution they called home, Julien must deal... Read all
Cabrera has said in interviews that she wanted to tell a story looking at how this heightened situation could bring about changes in the characters, and therefore become a vehicle for a story of social change in general. It's quite hard initially to grasp how involved we are meant to be in this story and these characters, especially as events seem to proceed in a fairly disorientating fashion. At first, Alida (Miou-Miou) and her son Julien (Morgan Marinne), separated from the others, seek refuge on a barge; later, further along the canal, they rejoin with Julien's father Fernand (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and the rest of the group. From there, it becomes a kind of road movie, except that the road is a rural backstreet and the characters aren't really heading anywhere definite.
It's intriguing to spend time with a movie whose cast of characters is not conventionally communicative: unlike, say, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (an obvious comparison), there is no Jack Nicholson character with whom the audience can readily engage, and if we could say that the nemesis role, the Nurse Ratched part, is filled by the Nazis, well, they aren't in the film that much either - although the movie does a very good job of portraying the lulled, casual threat that they pose in this landscape of stragglers and wanderers.
As Fernand, the tightly-wound and dogmatic attention-grabber, Jean-Pierre Leaud is riveting, even if it's unclear how controlled or deliberate his performance is. It's hard to watch Fernand without thinking of Leaud's own up-and-down screen persona of the past couple of decades. Perhaps Cabrera is subtly utilising our knowledge of the actor to bring edginess to the portrayal of Fernand. It would be very nice, though, to see Leaud play a role which is not, in some way, tortured, and to play it with the supreme authority that he still seems to possess. But has he ever given such a performance? He remains a frustrating puzzle of the cinema; so often has he come so close to being so good.
Morgan Marinne was, of course, superb as Francis, the teenager just out of juvenile custody in Le Fils - and yet that film appearance was also a triumph of casting; it was a question as to whether, or how well, he could do another role. In Folle embellie he may not seem strictly in-period, but with his watchfulness and concentration he is so absorbing, he manages to transcend his natural register. He also shows that he has a very sure grip on his craft: if Le Fils was a major test for actors, with its lengthy takes and movements choreographed precisely with the camera, Julien in Folle embellie is a demanding part because it's not easy to act opposite people who are aiming to be unpredictable, and Marinne proves himself equal to this challenge. His lucidity allows Julien to shine: his character arc gives a satisfying structure to the understandably meandering nature of so much of the material.
Dominique Cabrera uses the camera as an omniscient presence, more than just an observer, capable of flights of fancy (such as some Crouching Tiger-like trips through the trees) to convey the reach of her characters. She spreads an intoxicating sheen across the material, making it seem perhaps more logical than it actually is, and papering over any cracks in character development or interaction. The tone is a nice mixture of looseness and purpose, and even if it is not a totally satisfying story, it provides many striking images and a general sense that the warm moments in wartime life are hard-earned and fleeting.
- Nov 4, 2004