Margaux Hartmann


Reviewed by: Dora Leu

Margaux Hartmann
"Bergery crafts an intimate portrait of loneliness and rediscovery, and of particular insecurities pertaining to a certain age."

Cinema often prefers the extraordinary hero, the volitive, confident protagonist. To turn the camera to the so-called ‘weak’, to a vulnerable and often passive main character is rather rare. First-time director Ludovic Bergery takes a candid look at the insecurities of his characters, following a modern theme of not being exactly sure where to belong or what to search for.

Dickensianly titled Margaux Hartmann/L’Étreinte takes eponymous Margaux (Emmanuelle Béart), a 50-year-old widow, on a quest for personal renaissance as she relocates back to where she grew up and re-enrolls in university. As if life has only just started, she finds herself clueless, struggling to keep up with the youth and with the new mores of society – perhaps, at times, in too clichéd a fashion, for example, when she is the only one without a laptop in the classroom.

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A discreet sense of being overwhelmed travels through the entire film. Awkward, if not fearful of new experiences, Margaux often says, “I am too old” to the young group of students she attaches herself to. Having been disconnected for so long from the dating world, finding new love is equally a struggle; everything seems to have changed, love appears to lack more empathy now. It seems that the only relationship that can make her feel less alone is the platonic comradeship she finds in a young gay man (Vincent Dedienne).

Bergery crafts an intimate portrait of loneliness and rediscovery, and of particular insecurities pertaining to a certain age. It is a portrait also in the pictorial sense, as we are left with some charismatic and sweet images of Emmanuelle Béart as a fragile, yet sympathetic woman. There is not much we gather about Margaux’s husband and her grief is subtle. It is, however, always hanging above her, like a dark cloud that makes her overly shy and stops her from following her desires. Margaux suffers from a passive sadness of not being courageous enough to dare, reflected in the rhythm of the film and its lingering, quiet shots. “I don’t want to be making love to a teenager,” says one of her potential lovers, a (well-chosen) harsh line of dialogue that seems to encapsulate all of Margaux’s fears of being inexperienced - or rather, of being experienced no more.

Yet Margaux feels like a teenager to the audience, as well. She is a bit too fumbling, too Bambi-like for a woman her age. While her disconnection may be understandable, while the fear of the new is often paralysing, it is hard to believe someone in their fifties would be so unaware and so clumsy. The accelerated confidence that she seems to gain in the last part of the film therefore feels forced. And because she is fumbling, she is also predictable, and so is the film. We know that she may embarrass herself, we expect that she will feel out of place on the late-night trips her young group takes her on. It is very easy to guess when and in what manner Margaux might, tragically, make a fool of herself.

The film’s quiet intellectualism also seems a bit too shy. As is the context of Margaux following a master’s degree in German (which she appears to be very good at), there are references to literature and to Goethe, but they seem to lead nowhere. Perhaps it would have been interesting to see a bit more of the academic life she circles around, and especially of the supposedly charming scholar she falls for, in the sense that literary references and text used as proxy for what cannot be otherwise said could have added a bit more depth to the film.

L’Étreinte is ultimately pleasant, but forgettable, despite cleverly juggling small sparks of hope with feeling disheartened. While gentle and somewhat innocent, Margaux is not exactly a compelling or memorable character and not very profound. It is at times easier to pity her than to root for her, even if the film doesn’t contain any melodramatic tendencies.

Reviewed on: 09 Dec 2021
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Margaux, who just lost her older husband, starts a new life.

Director: Ludovic Bergery

Writer: Ludovic Bergery, Julien Boivent

Starring: Emmanuelle Béart, Vincent Dedienne, Nelson Delapalme, Elisabeth Duda, Sandor Funtek, Eva Ionesco, Nico Rogner, Tibo Vandenborre, Arthur Verret, Marie Zabukovec

Year: 2020

Runtime: 100 minutes

Country: France

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