Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:42 pm 
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Peggy Sue, in French

The prolific Noémy Lvovsky, who writes, directs, and frequently acts, stars in this buoyant, colorful French fantasy (which she directed and co-scripted) about a middle-aged woman in crisis. Camille (Lvovsky) is an actress who can't get much work. Her latest job consists of screaming while she gets her throat cut in bed and spurts fake blood. She is a heavy drinker and tokes on a bottle even on the Métro going home. There, things are getting packed up because she and her husband are divorcing. It's New Year's Eve and she goes to a wild party. In the aftermath she falls into a deep sleep in which she returns to her high school years -- and tries to change things. It's a French take on the kind of theme that's familiar from Hollywood movies and sci-fi. In fact this is more or less a free remake of Coppola's Peggy Sue Got Married. It's rather amusing to see it done with French actors, including some prestigious and sophisticated ones like Matthieu Amalric and Denis Podalydès, with none other than Jean-Pierre Léaud as a histrionic watchmaker and the great Yolande Moreau as Lvovsky's mother. The whole effort may seem to add only a few new touches to the stereotypes; subtleties will be more perceptible to the Gallic audience than Stateside, but this is an enterprise notable for its energy and enthusiasm throughout and shows Lvovsky's fluidity as an actress and fluency as a director.

To give you an idea: Lvovsky has performed in 97 films. Just recently she played the Madam is Bertrand Bonello's justly admired 2011 House of Tolerance, and then switched from the turn of the century to the French Revolution to play an important member of Marie Antoinette's entourage in Benoît Jacquot's Farewell, My Queen. She's far from an actress who can't get work: she's indispensable. She doesn't need to write and direct movies, and we might see Camille redouble as something of a vanity piece. She does stage some witty changes though. When Camille finds herself back at home with her parents going to the lycée and falling in love with her future, presently estranged, husband Éric (Samir Guesmi), they both play themselves, at their present age. Nobody seems to notice.

The usual stuff follows. Camille does all she can to avoid getting involved with Éric, knowing that the resulting marriage is going to end badly. She connects with a much older man, a physics prof (Podalydès), to whom she confides the time-travel thing that's going on and seeks his help as a connection for when she returns to the Obama era. She also knows that shortly after her sixteenth birthday, when she has gotten pregnant by Éric (who's madly in love with her) her mother is going to die of a heart attack, and she seeks to prevent that. Spoiler alert: she fails. Things do seem to change between her and Éric, in a feel-good sort of way.

I'm not going to claim that this movie is superior to its Hollywood equivalents -- it's just French, and it's interesting to see how Lvovsky has reshaped the theme to her own sensibility and preoccupations. It's fun for French film fans to see Matthieu Amalric done up as a particularly dorky high school teacher whose authoritarian manner touches off a student revolt. Lvosky and Guesmi are personable and lithe enough to make their momentary return to lycée-age occasionally believable, despite their keeping their adult shape. Guesmi, particularly, looks youthful, till you see his face up close. Lvovsky's mature woman's body comes in for some funny comments when the other girls at a gym class do an impromptu eval of her body part by body part. But what's particularly French is the willingness to put middle-aged actors in the role of adolescents and not be ashamed at the contrast. Lvovsky has a warm, appealing mistress-of-the-revels sort of personality and easily plays a woman able to handle time travel with suppleness and good humor. Camille Rewinds is also a way of showing Lvovsky's warm sympathy toward adolescence, as well as her belief in giving marriages a second chance. On a superficial level, the film moves along with energy, the scenes (handsomely shot by Jean-Marc Fabré) are bright-colored, the Eighties clothes and music are fun and played for sympathy rather than caricature, and the party and dance sequences further liven things up. The only trouble is what Justin Chang noted in his Variety review at Cannes: it goes on a bit too long: the 115 minute runtime could lose a quarter of an hour or so. But this does show that the French filmmaking machine is in working order, and can do almost anything.

Camille redouble received the Prix SACD 2012 prize at the Cannes Directors Fortnight series. It opened in Paris September 12 (last Wednesday) to very good reviews (Allociné press rating: 4.2) Watched at the 2012 New York Film Festival press screenings.

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