Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 17, 2024 10:55 am 
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A non-binary look at high finance

This is a leap forward for Héléna Klotz from her promising but brief debut The Atomic Age/L'âge atomique. Much of the success and mesmerizing originality of the film, which Vogue France calls "le choc féministe et esthétique de 2023," can be attributed to the use of the pop musician Pomme, Claire Pommet. Her character is called Jeanne Francoeur, and she is the support of a motherless family with two small kids, where the dad, Adrien (Grégoire Colin) is a member of the gendarmerie who can't quite make ends meet. They live on a military base that seems like a high class white cité. It's safe, but you can see why she'd want to get away from it, though she doesn't want to abandon those who depend on her. On the other hand she is wildly ambitious. Or does she just do a great job of pretending to be? Everything about Jeanne is both tentative and bold, evident and mysterious. The whole film has an excitement and a glow.

Jeanne is often passive or unresponsive, but that is the way this 23-year old intern at an investment firm is being now. She's in blurbs called "non-binary" but I'd rather call her "gender-questioning," and the arc of the action reflects that. I was reminded strongly of one of my inspirations of recent years, the short-lived HBO series "We Are Who We Are" directed by Luca Guadagnino (which I've referred to also in connection with the R-V film Red Island). It focuses on a 14-year-old gender-questioning boy and girl. He is Fraser Wilson (Jack Dylan Grazer), son of the new lesbian commander of a US military base in Chioggia, Italy, played by Chloë Sevigny, who has come with her wife. She is Caitlin Poythress, (Jordan Kristine Seamón ), daughter of one of the African American NCO's, who doesn't like the new commander.

These dependents of Jeanne suddenly turn out, strangely, to include Augustin (Niels Schneider), her handsome and sweet former beau, a Dragon (member of the French Dragoon Regiment) who has been on maneuvers in Africa for four years. We hear him give inquiring locals a candid description of the experience. Augustin now returns expecting to resume the relationship with Jeanne he has naively treasured while she has been trashing it in her mind, seeing their coming together as non-consensual because the male took the lead.

The action almost reverses itself, following a shocking disappointment. Professionally, Jeanne dreams of being high up in the world of high finance - investment banking or hedge funds - despite the fact that she is rather new to the practice of the game, following two years at Saint-Cyr military academy and several years in a state school of finance. Trying to become a quantitative analyst (or "quant"), Jeanne binds her breasts and wears a mannish suit, while still using her female name. By spotting an error in computer code, she instantly parlays her role as an intern into a desirable job offer from her boss, Farès (Sofiane Zermani, the Algerian-descent French rapper). Farès next impulsively offers Jeanne a high paying quant position in Singapore, where he is about to go. "I need brilliant people around me and I thought of you." He will take her with him. Or will he?

Don't read what follows if you don't want to know.

In the event, Farès screws her over, we don't know what for. Then she returns with nothing, as fast and light as she had gone out, and rejoins her father and siblings. She also rejoins Augustin, whom she has left without any promises. He helps her shave her head (recalling a key sequence in "We Are Who We Are"), but, that gender-misdirection notwithstanding, they seem to be in each other's arms.

She didn't tell Farès she was trans. When he asked, "You're lesbian, right?" she told him she was non-sexual, "neutral, like numbers." Was her sexuality on hold? Did the rebuff of her kiss by the baritone-voiced woman head of the World Aid ecology fundraising firm Elia Müller (Anna Mouglalis) of which Mathieu Amalric is a patron, turn her off to lesbianism? All we know is that after a period of selling expensive watches, she is applying for a high finance quant job again.

Along the way, she has taken as her symbol the Venus of Money or Vénus d'argent, the hood ornament of the Rolls Royce.

This film seems wildly experimental in retrospect and even while watching it seems fantastical many steps of the way, but this is what makes this fast-moving tale so interesting and fun. We are swept into Jeanne's exciting world. Or I was - the French critics and spectators weren't universally sold on it. French Vogue notes the alternating yellow and blue color schemes of the cinematographer, Victor Seguin, and the "enveloping" score by the director's younger brother, Ulysse. Certainly an attractive package, irresistibly anchored by the riveting presence of Pomme.

Spirit of Ecstasy/Le Vénus d'argent, 95 mins. AlloCiné press and spectators ratings both 3.0 (60%). Screened for this review as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York (Feb. 29-Mar. 10, 2024. Showtimes:
Monday, March 4 at 9:00pm
Friday, March 8 at 6:15pm (Q&A with Héléna Klotz)

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