Jeune Femme – Film Review
Director: Léonor Serraille
Writers: Clémence Carré (collaboration), Bastien Daret (collaboration)
Stars: Laetitia Dosch, Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Grégoire Monsaingeon
Léonor Seraille’s début feature film starts off with a bang – several bangs in fact -as the “jeune femme” of the title, Paula (Laetitia Dosch), pounds on the door of her ex-partner’s apartment, first with her fists and then with her head, and so energetically that she knocks herself out. She ends up in hospital where we are treated, in a five minute manic torrent of words, to an explanation of what has led her to this point.
Paula has recently returned from Mexico where she lived with her lover, Joachim (Gregoire Monsaingeon), a prominent photographer who made his reputation taking iconic photographs of her. Now he seems to have dumped her and she finds herself wandering around Montparnasse without anywhere to stay or any clear idea of what to do next. We aren’t told what led to the break-up, but a few minutes in Paula’s presence are enough for us to realise that she is not an easy person to be around. Though one of the first things she told is “I’m not bright but I’m honest,” she seems to be lacking any real sense of self-knowledge or self-discipline. Even her honestly is very selective as she lies to get jobs as as a sales assistant and a nanny, and more seriously, in one of the most moving scenes in the film, when Yuki, (Léonie Simaga), a friend who has helped and supported her, discovers the truth.
Seraille’s film is at times disjointed, reflecting Paula’s personality. It jumps from scene to scene and things are often left unexplained, leaving us as unclear as Paula must be as to what has led events to this point. Her fractured relationship with her mother may be at the heart of it, but the scenes where they meet are so exaggerated that they are hard to take seriously. In these, as in most of her life, Paula ploughs on, regardless of the feelings of others or of the effect she might have on their lives, in a ruthless search for some kind of personal meaning to her own.
“Jeune Femme” with a female director and mainly female cast is very much a film of our times and how you respond to it will depend very much on how you respond to Paula herself. For some she will be seen as a free-spirited young woman on a quest for self-knowledge and personal fulfilment, for others, as a self-absorbed and selfish woman whose train-wreck of a life damages anyone who gets close to her. Seraille’s film is always interesting and constantly surprises, and certain to inspire lively debate. What is harder to understand is that it is described as a comedy. While there are certainly moments of humour, there is little sense of catharsis in this film and Paula seems far more a tragic than a comic figure.
Seraille is obviously a director of great promise and it will be interesting to see where she goes from here. “Jeune Femme” is well worth seeing, even though we might not always be in sympathy with its central character. And despite talk of a dark ending, cat lovers can relax. Pussy not only survives but is probably the only one who ends up happy!