Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Fri Nov 08, 2013 8:54 pm 
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Criminal lovers

Katell Quillévéré's debut Love Like Poison (Un poison violent) (R-V 2011), a little coming of age film set in the provinces, did not really live up to its extreme title, but the director ups the ante marketly in the fast extreme story of a bad girl that is her second film, starring the frisky Saraa Forestier as the protagonist and François Damiens as her uneasy father. At Cannes when the film debuted in Critics' Week Catherine Shoard wrote in the Guardian, "The second feature from 33-year-old Katell Quillévéré [is] the sort of woozily shot, remorselessly emotional, acutely observed socio-realist soap that both confounds and confirms chick-flick prejudice." Indeed this could be seen as a crime story that due to its female point of view goes heavy on the love stuff and light on the crime stuff.

The blurb description of the film as "told in elliptical fragments that span 25 years" is misleading. Those "fragments" are simply sketches of Suzanne and her more staid sister Maria (Adèle Haenel, who was in Céline Sciamma's Water Lilies) slipping through their early years. They quickly lead us up to the key action that takes place when they are in their twenties. Suzanne has an illegitimate child, Charlie, who becomes part of the household of the girls and their widowed dad, Nicolas Merevsky (Damiens), while Suzanne works in the office of the trucking firm dad drives for. Suzanne then falls madly in love with a louche, lanky miscreant called Julien (strong newcomer Paul Hamy), disappears for a year, and then is sent to jail for burglary and assault as Julien's accomplice. Because Nicolas is out a lot, Charlie has been put into a foster home. At the court when Suzanne is sentenced, Nicolas is devastated, and rushes out.

As Catherine Shoard says, Quillévéré throws so much at you in a short time your feel manipulated. But this approach does permit her to cram a heap o' livin' into only an hour and a half. All I've described above takes place just in the first 46 minutes.

Sara Forestier is a gifted actress who's shown her ability to play a hellion before, 2010's The Names of Love being a good example. Paul Hamy has a savage look and manner that is her match and their scenes together are the most memorable in the film. In between Suzanne may just be waiting. Quillévéré used that title too soon: this is the "love like poison," a pleasing poison, evidently. Quillévéré shows here that she can make a powerful film too, though she is as overambitious this time as she was timid in the first film. Boyd van Hoeij in Variety thinks the director, her co-writer Mariette Desert and editor Thomas Marchan have trouble keeping the audience engaged or staying fully focused on the protagonist, and introduce some scenes that are incomprehensible or unnecessary. Despite the film's rush and brutal emotionalism, though, it knows how to stop and breathe too, even if sometimes it's more a gasp for breath. The sometimes documentary cinematography of Tom Harari is good at both long and very closeup shots, but is too murky at times. The acting is uniformly fine and the chemistry between Forestier and Haenel as sisters is great and between Forestier and Hamy as lovers more than great, almost scary.

Suzanne, 90 mins., debuted in Critics' Week at Cannes and opens theatrically in France 14 Dec. 2013. Screened for this film as part of the 7-10 Nov. San Francisco Film Society series French Cinema Now.

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