Alone At My Wedding


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Alone At My Marriage
"Truth is found in detail and gesture." | Photo: Marina Obradovic

When I tell you that Marta Bergman's film is about drama about a single mum from a Roma community who tries to better her life by finding a 'French' husband on the internet, what does that conjure up? If you're a regular attender of festivals or art house cinemas, there's a good chance you're imagining a grim slice of miserabalism in which she turns out to be little more than a desperate, moneygrabbing plot device on a downward spiral to nihilism and where her prospective husband ends up being a terrible example of abusive manhood.

What joy, then, to discover that Bergman's humanistic and thoughtful fictional debut - co-written by Laurent Brandenbourger, Boris Lojkine and Katell Quillévéré and showing in the ACID sidebar at Cannes - is much more nuanced than that and that, despite its wintry setting, it has a warm glow of understanding for its characters, faults and all.

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There's no doubt that life is tough for Pamela (played with fine calibration by newcomer Alina Ioana Serban). She lives in cramped conditions with her grandmother (Viorica Tudor) and toddler daughter Baby (Rebeca Anghel) with little prospect of economic improvement. Perhaps its unsurprising then that she dreams of a different life elsewhere, dyeing her hair and breaking out her one 'good' dress to visit the agency in town where a match might be found.

She may only have a handful of French words, but 'amour' is one of them and having met Belgian Bruno (Tom Vermeir) on Skype, we are soon following her to his country, where the pair - he unaware she is a mum, she all too aware that she is - try to strike a bond.

Bergman takes her time, ensuring we get a feel for the multifaceted nature of the Roma community, which all too often in drama is portrayed as little more than a hotbed of crime. There's a hardness here but, by extension, a resilience, epitomised by Pamela's relationships with her grandma and local lad Marian (Mitika Samu), whom she frequently leaves holding the baby.

Belgium, in contrast, is presented as a land of roomy apartments and bright surfaces, but also a place where space offers a fertile ground for loneliness to take root. Bergman's style has an intimacy, snuggling up to Pamela and Baby as they play or watching respectfully as Bruno and Pamela try to find a tentative connection. The emotions of her film never feel fake - from a moment of panic between mum and daughter to the perfect mix of anticipation and hesitancy with which Serban and Vermeir bring to their characters' initial interactions. The apprehension and attraction of the alien cuts both ways.

Although Pamela is the dominant force in the film, as she resourcefully starts to grab her new life by the horns, there's plenty of depth to Bruno, as well; his own motives and emotions permitted to be messy and complex but driven, like Pamela's, by some sort of hope, even if he's a terrible match for the intelligent woman who has entered his life.

Truth is found in detail and gesture. There's no need to labour the way that Pamela feels the difference between Belgium and her home town when we can see it in the simple act of leaving a tap running for the sheer joy of indulging in a small pleasure. Supporting characters are also betrayed by their actions, such as when Bruno's mother, upon stepping into his kitchen immediately swaps two drawers of a spice rack simply because, 'It's better like that' or the confusing and business of how many kisses is needed on greeting. These lighter moments help the film to flow.

Music, too, plays a key role, the wintry piano and strings of Vlaicu Golcea's score initially having echoes of Roma music wafting through it, later replaced by the more austere inflections of 'western' jazz. Two dance scenes also offer moments of awkward but heartfelt emotion - a 'slow dance' to death metal and an impromptu knees-up to one of Pamela's favourites.

Bergman cleverly uses that hair dye to indicate the passage of time, and the costuming by Claudine Tychon is also worthy of note, adding a charm to Pamela with a pair of woolly socks at the right moment or marking out a another with that all important 'good' dress.

The film is on the long side and I wonder if it might have been even longer still initially, as there is inclusion at the midway point of some magic realism and a nocturnal adventure that feels hasty and chopped up in comparison with what comes before and after, as though it has been cut back too hard. Or, perhaps, it's just that Bergman's documentary background makes her better suited to the hard-knock of reality rather than the fluff of fantasy.

Pamela is what you'll remember though, along with Serban's performance, her hopefulness sparkling undimmed no matter what the circumstance.

Reviewed on: 17 May 2018
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A Roma single mum hopes an internet love match will hold the key to a better life.

Director: Marta Bergman

Writer: Marta Bergman, Laurent Brandenbourger, Boris Lojkine, Katell Quillévéré

Starring: Alina Serban, Tom Vermeir, Jonas Bloquet, Mitika Samu, Marie Denarnaud, Johan Leysen, Karin Tanghe, Christophe Hermans, Achille Ridolfi, Lara Persain, Viorica Tudor, Alina Ioana Serban, Tom Vermeir, Jonas Bloquet, Mitika Samu

Year: 2018

Runtime: 121 minutes

Country: Belgium

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