La Petite Lili (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Changing the characters’
profession from literary to film, director/co-writer (with Julien Boivent)
Claude Miller presents an intriguing adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s play
“The Seagull” (1897), which was his first big success. We meet them on an
extended holiday in a relatively isolated spot of beauty and slowly get
involved in their interrelationships.
It is initially very confusing
to keep the characters straight, so you might want to take this with you.
Mado Marceaux (Nicole Garcia) is a self-involved actress with a
screenwriter boy friend, Brice (Bernard Giraudeau), and a son, Julien
(Robinson Stévenin) who is a fledgling screenwriter. Julien makes a short
film starring Lili (Ludivine Sagnier), a girl who lives across the bay
from the shindig. Jeanne-Marie (Julie Depardieu), whose mother Léone is
having an extra marital affair with Serge (Yves Jacques), the doctor of
Mado’s brother, Simon (Jean Pierre Marielle), is in love with Julien but
Julien seems to have the hots for Lili rather than Jeanne-Marie.
Unfortunately for Julien, Lili is upwardly mobile and has desires of her
own which include Brice. Alas, with all the philandering going on, Simon
is terribly depressed, feeling he has wasted his life (“it just goes by so
Got that? Well, it took me a
long, long time to figure out who was who and what their relationships
were with the others in the film. They all seemed to be having affairs
with people other than their significant others. Poor Serge is one of the
more inept seducers in motion picture history. He takes a shot at Mado as
well as Léone, and each time he’s on the verge of success he gets terrible
nose bleeds (“it always happens when I get excited”), probably a metaphor
for his own fear of passionate involvement.
Miller, with a big assist from
cinematographer Gérard de Batista, creates the provocative atmosphere and
captures the ambiguity of the characters’ feelings and relationships with
one another. But the charm of this little story is that it all revolves
around the beautiful faux-naïf Lili. She is a manipulative, selfish
vamp who instinctively seems to be able to ensnare any man to do precisely
what she wants. The James Dean-like Julien is seductively morose with a
strained relationship with his mother, Mado, but who has strong emotional
ties to her. Julien and Brice find themselves in competition, not only for
Julien’s mother, Mado, but also for the evanescent affections of Lili.
The story is told at least
twice, aping Hamlet’s story within a story, by concluding with Julien
making a film based on what actually happened and changing it to what
could (should?) have happened. What makes this movie rock is the
unsettling, understated sexuality of Sagnier, who made such a splash with
her topless cavorting in “Swimming Pool” (2003).
is a French-Canadian production and it’s the kind of film at which the
French excel. It’s a serious, involving story of interpersonal
relationships. What the characters say is what drives the film, more than
what they actually do, so you have to concentrate, not only to keep the
characters straight, but to understand what’s going on. And concentration
is absolutely necessary because reading the subtitles, which often are
white on white, is sometimes a real chore, but it is worth the effort.
In French with subtitles.
March 27, 2005