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LUCIE BORLETEAU: PERFECT NANNY/CHANSON DOUCE (2019) - RENDEZ-VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA

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KARIN VIARD IN CHANSON DOUCE

Servant trouble and story trouble

The English title "Perfect Nanny" is deeply ironic (the original French title means "Lullaby"): this is a bad nanny thriller, a slow-burn horror story adapted from Leïla Slimani's recent Goncourt Prize bestseller, which takes off from an Upper East Side news story but which a Washington Post critic described as worthy of the elegance and complexity of Henry James's Turn of the Screw. In the original news item a nanny fatally stabbed her two children charges and then cut her own throat and that's where the novel begins. French filmmaker Lucie Borleteau saves that for the end, and rather bungles it. Peter Bradshaw calls this film "strained and unsatisfying" and notes that it "pulls its punches with the final grisly scene."

In the event, this new French film adaption isn't as the French would say à la hauteur, quite up to the standard of its novelistic source. The trouble is the nanny from hell idea is in itself unoriginal, and there's a danger of falling into cliché if one can't achieve the delicacy of details or elegance of style of the novel source. Karin Viard is well cast as Louise, the nanny the young couple; she is the best thing about this movie. The glossy mise-en-scène is pleasing, but it can't hide a lack of originality in the storytelling in which the finer novelistic details are insufficiently highlighted. The portrait of the psycho is neither scary enough nor coherent enough and the choppy editing fails to generate suspense. For that is substituted nervousness about how clumsily the ending will be handled.

As the story begins, Myriam (Leïla Bekhti, wife of Tahar Rahim), who trained as a lawyer, and is tired of being at home tending a toddler and young daughter, Mila. So she and her husband Paul, (Antoine Reinartz, the strained history prof of R-V 20202's School Life) a record producer, interview prospects - leading to a standard audition montage showing Louise is the one since she's white, slim, well-spoken, French, and smiles. Her references are impeccable too ( details of those might have been interesting). She takes to the children and they to her before the interview's even over.

When Louise starts work things go well. Myriam gets back deep, perhaps too deep, back into her legal work. She and Paul enjoy their increased freedom, signaled (rather obviously) by their attending a wild party. Louise seems to be doing a great job. She goes out of her way, coming early and leaving late for her commute. It's soon clear Louise's desire to lose herself into caring for the kids is unhealthy, perhaps arising from the need to escape from an unpleasant past. She is also watching what Myriam and Paul do and disapproving. She wants to control. She becomes more and more possessive about the children, and while Miriam defends her apparent oddities, Paul is increasingly dissatisfied. All the time Louise is being reminded that even though she is welcomed and even invited along on a vacation, she is not in control, that however the two children like her she doesn't matter. And that she cannot bear.

This kind of story is a thing of little details. Louise and Myriam clash over consuming past-expiration date yogurt: Louise hates, nay, is infuriated by wasted food. Her bosses are spoiled bourgeois, while she shows signs of earlier poverty that persists today. When extra times for Louise with Mila and Adam get cancelled, Louise is upset. Her involvement is out of proportion. Eventually she does strange and disgusting things, before the horrible one.

The film dips in and out of Louise's point of view, and toward the end a scene of imaginary sea creatures shows she is unhinged. However, the film's handling of POV isn't very consistent. The point of several visits to Louise's humble home in the 'burbs is unclear.

The finale is anticlimactic. Borleteau shows smoothness and competence here, but not a master's hand.

Lucie Borleteau's first feature was Fidelio: Alice’s Odyssey (Rendez-Vous 2015) a seagoing sex tale that was somewhat inexplicable but also original. She goes more mainstream here, with mixed success.

Perfect Nanny/Chanson douce, 100 mins. debuted Oct. 3, 2019 in Montpelier and Paris. Its French theatrical release was 27 Nov.,with an AlloCiné press rating 3.2 (64%). In the US, it is a Distrib Films release.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema:
Monday, March 9, 6:15pm (Q&A with Lucie Borleteau cancelled due to the Coronavirus)
Wednesday, March 11, 1:45pm

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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