Roads Scholar, 20 September 2004
Quite simply this is one of the Best French films of the last fifty years. The relatively unknown Jean-Loup Hubert has produced the kind of film that the overrated Godard could not turn out if you gave him a hundred years (to be fair to the semi-Amateur Godard he would probably have no interest in addressing the Human Condition in such a refreshing straightforward fashion). In terms of story it would be difficult to find something more basic – at one end of the spectrum a married couple living in rural Brittany have slowly grown apart since losing a child, at the other end is nine year old Louis, a city boy from Paris sent to spend a summer with the couple so that his mother (an old friend of the wife) may have her second child without the encumbrance of her first. In other words this is our old friend the bildungsroman/coming-of-age/rites-of-passage movie, the one we’ve seen so many times before but, as I’ve said before, it’s all in the wrist. The tone is set from the first with a wistful, haunting music track leading us into a nineteen fifties French countryside preserved in amber as Christine Pascal (billed only as the mother of Louis) entrusts her son (Antoine Hubert) to the care of her friend Marcelle (Anemone) and her husband Pelo (Richard Bohringer).This is a French film and French film in a rural setting so we meet Marcelle as she is removing the eye of a rabbit with a knife as a prelude to skinning it. It’s a great metaphor for the changes Louis will experience in the next few weeks (you don’t see this in Paris, kid) and it also prepares us, the audience, for an arguably alien lifestyle embracing outside privys and indoor chamber pots. Writer-director Hubert (he adapted his own autobiographical novel for the screen) bravely cast his own son, Antoine, in the key role of Louis, despite the boy’s complete lack of acting experience and the experiment paid off handsomely. Nor can we argue that he found it easy to coax a performance from his own flesh and blood because he has coaxed an even better performance from Vanessa Guedi as Martine, the ten-year-old tomboy who teaches Louis so much in such a short time. Matching the performances of the two children are those of the two principal adults Anemone and Richard Bohringer, both more than deserving of the Cesars they won as respectively Best Actress and Best Actor. I have been aware of this film for several years but have never been able to track it down until now when I finally located the DVD. On the initial viewing I was overwhelmed and I know it is one I will return to again and again.