Sunday, June 15, 2014


Sara Forestier, Paul Hamy
Country & year: France, 2013
Director: Katell Quillévéré
Screenplay: Katell Quillévéré, Mariette Désert
Cinematography: Tom Harari
Editing: Thomas Marchand
Set Design: Anna Falguères, Mathieu Guy
Costumes: Moïra Douguet, Virginie Montel
Sound: Yolande Decarsin, Florent Klockenbring, Benjamin Rosier
Cast: Sara Forestier, François Damiens, Adèle Haenel, Paul Hamy, Lola Dueñas, Corinne Masiero, Anne Le Ny
Production: Move Movie, Mars Films, Panache Productions, La Compagnie Cinématographique, Canal+, Ciné+, CNC
Producers: Gaëtan David, Bruno Levy
Language: French
Kesto/Duration: 94 min
    End credit theme song: "Suzanne" (Leonard Cohen), Nina Simone in Rome 1969
    2K DCP from Films Distribution with English subtitles by John Miller and Sionann O'Neill viewed at Cinema Lapinsuu, Sodankylä (Midnight Sun Film Festival), 15 June 2014

Timo Malmi (Midnight Sun Film Festival Catalogue, 2014): "Leonard Cohen’s classic song Suzanne – as Nina Simone’s magnificent live version from 1969 – concludes Katell Quillévéré’s second feature, again a portrayal of a young woman and a family falling apart. Thus are redeemed the promises of Love Like Poison."

"Proficiently interpreted by Sara Forestier, the title character of Suzanne is an unpredictable figure escaping the most conventional psychological characterizations. With no reproach whatsoever, Quillévéré observes Suzanne and her little sister Maria (Adéle Haenel, who received the César Award for her role) over several years from childhood to the teenage years, and to adulthood."

"Their mother is dead, and the single father Nicolas (the Belgian actor François Damiens), an endearingly taciturn truck driver, tries to keep the family together. But a madcap love seizes Suzanne, and crime and drugs step into the picture. The road to reaching one’s own children and the family unit is more than rocky."

"The same way the main characters of the films are different, Suzanne is harsher than Love Like Poison, but this realistic story attaining surprising turns, too, contains its own poetry. The rural town is beautifully sketched again, and the use of music is insightful – creating appropriate feelings, with the dances, lights, and everything. Love and family life can be heartrendingly sad." (TM)

Fine performances, an understanding of light in the cinematography, and an interesting music score belong to the strengths of Suzanne, Katell Quillévéré's acclaimed film tracking 25 years in the life of Suzanne who grows from a little girl to a young woman. Mother has died, and Nicolas tries his best as a single father of two daughters. In the beginning Nicolas is considering dating a woman, but he is too exhausted and busy for that.

The two daughters, Suzanne and Maria, are then left to their own devices a little bit too much. Soon they are teenagers, full of life, and suddenly Suzanne is pregnant. Father hits her. She is too young and inexperienced and alone, she becomes a criminal, and loses her little son to a foster family. Suzanne has a good defence lawyer. After serving a prison term she works as a waitress, but again she meets an exciting guy who turns out to be a criminal, based in Morocco, involved in drug smuggling. Suzanne acquires a second identity as "Jeanne Serein", but having visited the family grave she breaks down and cannot go on with the masquerade. This time, it's maximum security prison.

It's a story of a broken family and a broken life. All the performances are good, but the most touching is that of François Damiens as the tragic father who sees his worst fears come true. Although Suzanne's life course has been catastrophic there is in her a luminous quality, a sense of a life force which might transcend even the crushing turns of fate she has had to endure.

In the imagery a dominant aspect is that of industrial urban views: the father's world of truck driving, truck stops, highways, and their restaurants, and Suzanne's world of cafés, prisons and harbours where the thrilling moments of drug smuggling take place.

Two issues. In the narrative the big jumps and ellipses leave many questions unanswered, but Suzanne is not a modernist or post-modernist film, either. Another issue is that I could not find a persuasive viewpoint or an approach to the story of Suzanne. What are we to make out of it? Suzanne is a film of quality but I found there a vagueness of perspective, which may be entirely due to my own limitations.

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