Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 04, 2017 9:19 pm 
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French artists in Rome

In her first feature film, Caroline Deruas takes on a tricky, but interesting subject: life at an artist residency. This one's at the impressive Villa Medici in Rome, site of the actual French Academy in Rome (Mission Colbert), depicted here as failing financially and slated for extinction. First, then, several hazards of such places: one might get too caught up in the problems of management; and the place might be so glamorous and beautiful one is distracted from work. Another thing: do artists really want to be in a colony? A further snag turns up here: a jealous, competitive spouse. One might also just wind up writing about or painting or photographing the residency and come away with something too claustrophobic and self-reflective.

These things happen to Camille Peano. She's played by Clotilde Hesme, who was cast as Louis Garrel's lover in Regular Lovers/Les amants réguliers (directed by Louis's father Philippe, the considerably older lover of Caroline Deruas in real life); and also in Christophe Honoré's Lovesongs/Les chants d'amour. Camille (like Caroline?) has a much older husband, Marc (Tchéky Karyo). He's a successful writer, but perhaps washed up, at least jealous of Camille's entering the field. Marc pulls out the noisiest portable manual typewriter in the world and comically types away on it day and night so Camille can't think, or sleep. Her idea is to write about Villa Medici's first woman artist resident. But she can't get going - till Marc leaves.

These things are incidental because whhile Deruas plays around with the actual problems of residencies, her main concern is to turn the story into a surreal meditation on such places. Central to this aim is Axèle (Jenna Thiam), a pretty young photographer with glorious red hair, who seems even more haunted by the place's past, wielding cameras of various formats and turning out quite handsome efforts in which she, the architecture, and local statuary are rendered in surreal images. There is an understood competition between Camille and Axèle, who anyway is neurotic and crazy. Thaim and Hesme, an actress who normally exudes cool bemusement, are a good contrast. Axèle gets an impressive exhibition at the villa at the end that she seeks to destroy. Spoiler alert: maybe Axèle is just a figment of Camille's increasingly energetic imagination.

Daydreams/L'Indomptée ("The Untamed") is really a very watchable film with delicate, beautiful images if you sit back and enjoy and indulge some of its more over-the-top surreal images; but it isn't a wholly successful effort. The artistic life is a subject it's hard to broach without falling into some clichés and that happens here. Deruas ought to have let herself indulge more freely in surrealism, to bring to life the ghosts that haunt the place and the hermetic mind games that plague artists shut off in a colony. Cahier du Cinéma's critic called this film "More the fantasy of a great film than a great film about fantasy." Daydreams gives pleasure with its visuals, its settings, and its cast, but remains superficial.

Daydreams/L'indomptée, 96 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 2016, and opened in Franch cinemas 15 Feb. 2017 (AlloCiné press rating a meager 2.5, though there were many favorable comments). Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Unifrance 1-12 Mar. 2017 series Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Shotimes:
Wednesday, March 8, 4:30pm
Friday, March 10, 6:45pm (Q&A with Caroline Deruas)

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