21 Nights With Pattie


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

21 Nights With Pattie
"This initially seems like a set-up for a film exploring mental reconciliation after estrangement but the Larrieus have other ideas - perhaps too many of them." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu's wilfully quirky 21 Nights With Pattie refuses to be pigeon-holed, embracing everything from sexual rediscovery to death and ghostly goings in a part of France where there is a whisper of magic realism blowing through the leaves of the forest.

Caroline (Isabelle Carré) has returned to this remote part of southern France following the death of her mother, although it quickly becomes apparent that the locals knew more about 'Zaza' than she ever did. This initially seems like a set-up for a film exploring mental reconciliation after estrangement on the part of Caroline but the Larrieus have other ideas - perhaps too many of them. The result is that we feel as wrong-footed as Caroline does when she meets her mother's friend and housekeeper Pattie (Karin Viard), who instead of offering up observations on the dead woman, regales her with a no-holds-barred litany of her sexual conquests. Carré and Viard spark off one another wonderfully in these early scenes, with Caroline as shuttered as Pattie is open, the former drawing back from not just a physical but a mental invasion of her personal space.

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The corporeal is key, not just in terms of Pattie's earthly delights, but with all sorts of bodies under consideration, including Caroline's mother's - the Larrieus introduce a mystery element by having it vanish into thin air on the first night Caroline is at the house. The situation seems to lay the ground for a genre whodunit with the arrival of Jean (André Dussollier, having a whale of a time) who claims to be from Zaza's past and who Caroline quickly comes to believe is a famous writer - but once more the directors refuse the obvious path.

As the mystery surrounding the body plays out, it is Caroline's psyche that remains the focus of the film, as she begins to consider aspects of desire that have long lain dormant - underlined by chaste and harried conversations with her husband over Skype - in the run up to three nights' of August celebrations in the neighbouring village. With the heat of midsummer and the constant undercurrent of lust, there is a classic Dionysian feel to the action in all its sensual spontaneity, with the character of local handyman André (Denis Lavant), appearing almost like a modern-day satyr, stripped to the waist, speaking at the gallop and with a one-track mind for sex.

The directors never stop being playful, even restricting the aspect ratio for part of the narrative - although this feels like a very on-the-nose manoeuvre for a film that is otherwise surprisingly effective in transforming Caroline's emotional journey into a literal one. Would that the Larrieus had constrained themselves as well as the lensing through the mid-section of the film, which becomes so meandering in places you feel as though you are being taken less on a journey than being led up the garden path. The one thing they never lose sight of, however, is emotion, building a head of repressed sexuality steam that offers a surprisingly satisfying climax.

Reviewed on: 21 Oct 2015
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After her mother has died, Caroline befriends a woman who was looking after her mother, but events take a mysterious turn.

Director: Arnaud Larrieu, Jean-Marie Larrieu

Writer: Arnaud Larrieu, Jean-Marie Larrieu

Starring: Karin Viard, Sergi López, Denis Lavant, Isabelle Carré, André Dussollier, Philippe Rebbot, Laurent Poitrenaux, Mathilde Monnier

Year: 2015

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: France

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