Pardon My French

Pardon My French

****

Reviewed by: Sarah Artt

Célimène (Mastroianni) is a 35-year-old writer and mother-of-one suffering from writer's block. She has spent her last advance having her flat remodelled, has recently split up with her partner Antoine (Zidi) and is camping out with her son Adam (Cedron) in her mother's apartment. Clutching her Marlboro Lights, she tells her friend Marion (Guillemin) that she thinks changing her name to Nathalie will change her life. This initially momentous decision appears to have little effect. It does not break her writer's block, make her give up smoking or put her relationship with Antoine back together.

A chance encounter with Anaïs, her friendly stalker, sparks a peculiar relationship. Despite the fact that she steals Nathalie's mail and follows her through the city, Anaïs is really less a stalker and more a voluntary personal assistant and babysitter. It is Anaïs who corresponds with Antoine and arranges a meeting at the flat to hand over keys. She also attends Nathalie's surprise birthday party and bonds with Adam.

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Nathalie is the kind of charmingly neurotic woman Woody Allen would have adored in his youth. Not only does Mastroianni as Célimène/Nathalie resemble a gracefully ageing Ali McGraw, with her long, dark hair and casually elegant jeans, she manages to make Nathalie's oddities charming and amusing. One trope that reoccurs throughout is Nathalie's sleepwalking which is really sleep-baking. She wanders into the kitchen and begins to make a cake, leaving the egg shells in the mixture, sometimes even managing to bake the monstrosity, littered with shards of burnt eggshell. In many ways, this serves as an amusing comment on the idea of sleepwalking through the performance of domesticity. Later, when she makes a cake successfully during the day, her mother asks her if she is napping.

The first time the sleep-baking happens, Nathalie has just begun mixing the dough with her hands when her mother awakens her with a slap. Mortified, Nathalie is then introduced to her mother's lover Dimitri who, despite the fact that it is 3am and he is wearing only pants and T-shirt, proceeds to quiz Nathalie about her writing. He then goes on to praise what he believes is her last book, only to be told he is thinking of another writer entirely. It's a well-played, subtly comic moment in the film.

Another of Nathalie's peculiarities we discover when she goes to her therapist. At times, it seems Nathalie cannot make herself speak. She scribbles her responses furiously in response to her therapist's questions, and is told to return next Tuesday. She then runs into Marion, who impatiently drags her to meet her latest conquest whom she refers to as “The Hungarian”, a fellow named Réza (Bukvic). Marion proceeds to expose all Nathalie's neuroses before Réza, while Nathalie looks on, helplessly mute. Marion, clearly frustrated with what she sees as Nathalie's neurotic posturing, storms out of the restaurant. This outburst does force Nathalie out of her silence, as she tries to explain to Réza that sometimes, her words and thoughts just seem like noise coming out of her mouth and it all becomes too impossible to articulate.

Throughout these everyday tasks, Nathalie encounters Anaïs, who begs her to write about her life. Nathalie never outright refuses and never regards Anaïs as a threat to her or anyone else. Though their relationship does come to a head, Nathalie does break her writer's block by beginning a story about a girl like Anaïs. In the end, Anaïs is more muse than fan or stalker as she takes another path out the narrative.

This is a charming first feature-length offering from writer/director Fillières who promises to join the ranks of successful French women directors with a great feeling for social comedy. The central performance from Mastroianni adds much to the film, but this is very much an ensemble project, with wonderfully subtle comic performances throughout. This will be of particular interest to fans of Agnès Jaoui's The Taste of Others and Look at Me.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2009
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A black comedy about the relationship between a woman and a female stalker.
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Director: Sophie Fillières

Starring: Chiara Mastroianni, Agathe Bonitzer, Malik Zidi, Dominique Valadié, Sophie Guillemin

Year: 2009

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: France

Festivals:

BIFF 2009
EIFF 2009

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