31 January 2011 | guy-bellinger
Childhood memories woven into a romantic thriller
Nicole Garcia was born in Oran, Algeria, in 1946, and grew to be a teenager there before the Algerian War and the coming Independence threw her and her family out of her birth place, in April 1962, when she was sixteen. A trauma for her and her nearest and dearest, which remained unspoken and even suppressed in the Garcia family and a theme that was bound to be examined some day by the actress turned writer-director.
It WAS but not before Nicole Garcia turned sixty. Moreover, she avoided a full frontal approach to the subject, maybe because she was frightened of the potential psychological damages a travel back in time could cause to her. Anyway, Nicole Garcia, aided by her faithful co-writer Jacques Fieschi, opted to weave her childhood memories into a fiction that links the present to the past.
The resulting story concerns Marc Palestro, a successful estate agent, whose comfortable, orderly life (complete with wife, daughter, beautiful house, high income, the lot...) is undermined by the appearance of Mme Mondonato, an attractive woman in whom he recognizes the little girl who was his childhood love back in Oran. From this moment on, Marc's both enchanted and troubled past resurfaces, and all he wants is to resume the romance, in a more adult way maybe, that had been brutally interrupted by the events in Algeria. What he does not realize at once is that things are more complicated than they appear...
All things considered, the director's roundabout way to confront her memories is pretty interesting. This choice indeed enables her to tell a rather captivating story with its exciting amount of enigmas, mysteries and plot twists, haunted by the presence of a mysterious woman and enriched by the debunking of a real estate scam. At the same time "Un balcon sur la mer" is a worthwhile meditation about how absurd it is to repress memories when you know the past will necessarily catch up with you and impose itself on you whether you like it or not.
With beautiful locations, most of which set in the South of France, "Un balcon sur la mer" proves both an entertaining and intelligent movie, with fine performances by its 'romantic' leading couple (Jean Dujardin, bringing manly charm to the insecure Marc Palestro, and Marie-José Croze, convincing as usual as the seductive but unpredictable Mme Mondonato).
It is on the acting side that I would spot the only flaws of this well-made film. Toni Servillo's Italian accent, on the one hand, is too thick, which sometimes makes the key character he plays difficult to understand. On the other hand, the role of the excellent Sandrine Kiberlain (as Marc's wife) should have been expanded. You do not give so little to do to such a talented actress.
However, these are only minor defects, which don't prevent "Un balcon sur la mer" from being an enjoyable movie. Having proved a good fiction director one more time (this is her sixth feature), how about a documentary about her French-Spanish-Algerian roots by Nicole Garcia?