Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 25, 2004 11:52 pm 
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There’s no there there, even with Huppert

“La Vie promise” is the sad, meandering and stillborn tale of a streetwalker with a shattered brain who, in a moment of danger, flees from Nice into the country and tries in vain to return to an old lover and child and time when the life“promised” her had been much rosier. This is very far from being Isabelle Huppert’s best work, simply because the journey chronicled in “La Vie Promise” is lacking in coherence and momentum. Huppert is always impressive, but the movie just isn’t up to her remarkable talents and can’t adequately display them. One can only assume she took on the role of Sylvia because it seemed a challenge to become a rough whore with bad hair. Her presence never ceases to be arresting, her face a glorious tacky ruin with white lipsticked lips and desperate blank stare framed by bleach blond strands, and there are moments when one can enjoy just looking into those cold, beautiful eyes. But the time still passes pretty slowly.

It’s not that the other principals aren’t both good. They’re Maud Forget as Laurence, Sylvia’s older daughter, who accompanies her – sporadically: they keep abandoning each other and then in far fetched coincidences re-connecting -- on the voyage back in search of the lost life, and Pascal Greggory as Joshua, a mysterious man with a prison past and a car theft present (why does he seem so sensitive and nice?) who chooses to accompany the two women and be their driver. Joshua too goes off, but then comes back to drive them again at the end. This is the movie’s signature move: dump people, then pick them up again – if you can. There’s not much hope and ultimately not much point to these people’s desperate lives. The patchy, disorganized plot repeatedly destroys the energy and emotion the scenes between Sylvia, Laurence, Joshua, et al. have built up. This is a clumsily assembled story that no amount of emoting can save.

Surely the challenge for Huppert was to enter a rougher world than usual and cast off her usual hauteur and elegance, and in the early scenes indeed she’s barely recognizable. But as time wears on the imperious gestures return and Huppert is Huppert again; the smallest details like the way she holds a cigarette become glamorous and confident, as in other roles – even as her character loses energy and hope and the “promise” of arriving at some kind of powerful finale gradually fades. The movie, like Huppert’s mask as the damaged, desperate Sylvia, also deconstructs, because its emotional climax – the scene when Sylvia at last finds Piotr (André Marcon), the man who once loved her but now is raising their eight-year-old son with a new wife, is just a sad little moment that sits ill with the Hallmark card, David Hamilton soft focus and flower images that have characterized most of the outdoor scenery.

The irrelevant prettiness of these flower moments is as grating as the corny American songs that are periodically interjected to crudely underline some plot point. But what point? We get that Laurence has some kind of illness, but is it chronic indigestion or epilepsy? Sylvia turns out to have spent time in a sanitorium, and so we gather that she’s brain damaged, which makes recognition scenes pretty much non-starters. What’s wrong with her, and why she can’t remember former neighbors and other people in her old life but knows Piotr and instantly bonds with the son she hasn’t seen since he was two, are not questions M. Dahan is able to answer for us. Somehow the lack of a back-story doesn’t make a story.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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