' ' Cinema Romantico: CIFF Review: Suzanne

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

CIFF Review: Suzanne

Maria (Adèle Haenel) and Julien (Paul Hamy) are discussing Maria's sister and Julien's lover, Suzanne (Sara Forestier), and how she left her job with her young son in tow to be with Julien. Maria suspects Julien of pressuring her but Julien says "I didn't ask her to." He continues: "You know how she is." He smiles. Maria smiles. They know how she is.

How she is is impulsive, an erratic carefree spirit. Within the film's first ten minutes Suzanne has become pregnant, though tellingly we never see nor hear about nor so much as get the first name of the father. Why does she want to keep the baby? "Because I feel like it," she replies with a shrug. In most films that might constitute the screenplay's lack of understanding its own protagonist, but here it communicates to us in toto who Suzanne is and how she sees the world.

Director Katell Quillévéré, who penned the screenplay along with Mariette Désert, has in many ways crafted a French answer to Derek Cianfrance's "The Place Beyond The Pines", in so much as it as an era-spanning document of a family and its ongoing crises. "Suzanne", however, is more compact, refraining from separate acts, content to unspool in a free-flowing form evoking the refreshing sensation that it is being written on the screen.

On a couple occasions Suzanne even briefly drops out of the story, as it focuses more on the exploits of Maria and her and Suzanne's father Nicolas (Francois Damiens) and their efforts to raise Suzanne's son as she abandons him for a wayward life of crime on the arm of Julien. In fact, I suspect Quillévéré could easily have made a "Suzanne" B-side called "Maria." It can be tough to stay on the side of a character that willingly walks away from her child, and that we stay at least partially rooted to her selfish struggle is because Maria stays at least partially rooted to her sister. Sisterly Love is binding, and "Suzanne" conveys this gracefully, not least because of the knowing performances of Forestier and Haenel. They are two girls facing mature decisions with only lives primarily of immaturity to guide them.

It must be said, however, the film's final act is spurred by an extreme coincidence, which is always bothersome, and a particular character's reckoning felt cheap. Although maybe it wasn't cheap at all. Maybe its all-of-a-suddennes was very in tune to her herky-jerky arc of life. And maybe my emotional connection to that particular character - and too often, I feel, critics are unwilling to confront lurking emotional connections to evens on the screen - influenced my line of thinking.

Nevertheless, I have substantial admiration for a film that allows its primary character to take possession of her (or him) self rather than letting the plot square things. Is Suzanne's conclusive choice a case of too little, too late? It could be argued, but I enjoyed myself so much I was willing to believe she'd finally turned the corner.

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