I don’t know about you, but I think it’s pretty rare to see a film that treats its audience as though they are intelligent people. Filmmakers who believe we are capable of working out plot nuances and subtle character traits without resorting to explicit explanation either by dialogue or action, therefore, must also be rare. Therefore, this is a rare film.
I wouldn’t say it is exquisitely filmed, as I found the overall look of the film to be stark and grey. However, this did serve to subtly highlight a look, a twitch a roll of the eyes that added much weight to the characters involved. And that in itself was exquisite.
Kristin Scott Thomas plays a woman who, having been released from prison, moves in with her sister. The film follows her reintegration into “normal” society and the impact she has on those around her.
Now then, Kristin Scott Thomas is British and this is a French film and she plays a French woman. I had no idea whether Kristin’s accent was authentic or not, as everyone sounded French to me (please excuse my ignorance of varying French accents). I guess it is noticeable to some, though, as quite early in the film, her character is described as having spent quite a lot of time in England.
Her character moves in with her sister’s family, where she is embraced as the “cool aunt” by the children and with love, affection and normality from her sister and brother-in-law (although furtive glances between them suggest an undercurrent of concern). She also encounters along the way her parole officer, work colleagues and suitors and touches each of their lives in some way. Rather than directly influencing them, it’s almost as if her presence affects a self-reflection of all the other characters.
Each character’s interaction with her is underpinned by whether they know or not why she was in prison. For the most part, when they do know, there is an overreaction to appear, as though it has no bearing on their relationship, although clearly it does. It so often appears as the white elephant in the room, as people around her exchange glances and gestures as to how to act. And it is her, the one who is the centre of it all, who is the calming influence. She is, as best she can be, at peace with what she has done and it is as if it is the others who are embarking on the journey of acceptance of the crime.
In the audience, I joined them on the journey. The crime committed is revealed slowly enough to allow the audience to figure things out for themselves and in a reflection of the other characters around her; we reassess the relationships in her life based upon this overriding factor.
To call this film a cerebral experience rather than a visual one would perhaps elevate it to a level where it might put people of going. But the way I see it is this, whodunits and M. Night Shyamalan films have the same creeping awareness of the audience, it’s just that they throw in murder, action and huge plot twists to engage the audience and surprise them. This film does not carry those moments of impact, but it engages your brain in the same way.