Belle épine (2010)

23 07 2012

Every once in awhile I’ll see a film that at least fits the mold or something I’d absolutely love, but I don’t. I’m going to file Belle epine away as such a film. Perhaps calling it the French Fish Tank is unfair but considering my admiration for that film, it’s more than reductive compliment. The way Zlotowski is able to depict something which is so often romanticized (being a teenager) as something more natural is definitely in line with Arnold’s better known film, but her film lacks the direct impact of Arnold’s film.

I’m more than glad to give Zlotowski credit. Her film does look absolutely stunning, even if the following steadicam look is apparently overdone. Her visuals never get the time to be appreciated with the camera’s kinetic pace. This almost sounds sacrilegious against my own cinematic creed since I have many personal favorites that look good and aren’t entirely static. However, her compositions seem to have gone under appreciated, perhaps with the expectation that the camera work is a necessity in a “teenage drama” such as this film. Many have compared it to Pialat, but where as his character were almost the sole focuses of his works, the ones here feel like more of a construct.

The character of Prudence is certainly interesting and Lea Seydoux is pretty fantastic, but the film uses the death of the character’s mother as a stepping stone for the drama. Where as Pialat’s characters may have been more opaque, or at least mysterious, the chaos overtaking Prudence’s mind here seems to have been cheapened by the structure of the story. Sure, Pialat’s characters had their motivations for their personal rebellions, but they seemed to be responses to situations. Here, it seems like the intention that Prudence is being haunted, perhaps even defined by her mother’s death. This is reinforced by a certain scene in the film’s conclusion.

 

This might sound like a bitter Pialat fan being disappointed by the film not being similar enough, but the distinction between the two is important. Here, the film seems to be quietly prying itself from the definition of a “character study” even while it remains naturalistic. I guess the ultimate result is that the characters aren’t that interesting. Maybe the adventures of the individuals in   À nos amours seemed more interesting to me because I was a teenager when I first saw that and now I’m not. I would at least argue that the film transcends that viewer-film relationship. The young life there as least has it moments of small happiness, even though the sentiment is still that those moments are fleeting. Here, the interactions are a mental downward spiral, implying more of a connection with a film like Lilya 4-Ever.

It’s worth mentioning though that this Zlotowski’s first film and under those circumstances, it is even more of an accomplishment. She seems very sure of herself, even as the film teeters out of momentum once Prudence loses her connection with the bikers. She is able to be naturalistic, elliptical, and romantic all at the same time. One of these seems like a contradiction. It’s still an authentic experience, but it manages to be visually stunning. This is probably where the Fish Tank comparisons could come from, but Zlotowski lacks the virtuoso camera movements of Arnold. I’ll admit to being hard on this movie, if only because it reminds me of so many things I already love. It should be recognized for being a impressive debut, and it features the best performance I’ve seen from Seydoux. It seems a little incomplete to be a masterpiece, though.

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