The winner of this year’s FIPRESCI Prize is Pascale Breton’s Suite Armoricaine, a journey of two characters who are at different stages of life. Both are trying to discover something about themselves, and the film manages to look into the souls of these people.
The story is set in a university campus in Rennes. A lecturer in art history, Françoise Diraison returns from Paris to Rennes, where she studied years ago. She encounters some old friends from the local 80s punk scene. There is also a mystery she must solve involving her childhood in Breton and the roots of Breton culture.
The other main character is Ion, who arrives at the university to study geography. He seems to love his new life until his mother Moon, an old friend of Françoise, comes to town. Ion’s life is capsized by the presence of mother, who lives on the streets.
The connected stories of Ion and Françoise on campus are told in a very natural way. Breton, who shot her first feature Illumination in 2004, does not follow a conventional timeline; the film moves forwards and backwards, and its flow resembles the way people summon memories.
Everything about Suite Armoricaine seems fresh and unforced. Art history, the punk scene, geography and family are among the many themes which Breton weaves together, giving clues as to the nature of the characters. Breton has said that she values a feeling of balance, and this could be the reason for the film’s harmony.
With all of these elements coming together, Suite Armoricaine finds a lovely flow: the result is a moving film about people trying to find a sense of place in their lives: a garden of Eden, peace of mind, a resolution, or closure. It is about the reconciliation characters find through suffering and self-discovery. Since Breton is never judgmental, we become close and curious followers of the characters. Another important factor is the performances, with the charismatic Valérie Dréville excellent as Françoise.
Many films present nature against culture as a source of conflict. But in Suite Armoricaine, culture and nature are not in opposition: they enrich each other. An explanation of a Renaissance painting harmonizes with the forest Françoise knows by heart from childhood. Suite Armoricaine is also about healing from conflicts and confrontations within oneself or with others. It’s a film full of grace and nuance, which touches audiences both emotionally and intellectually. At a time when we rarely see female characters depicted in depth, the strong portrait of Françoise is valuable.
The film takes some time to reach its emotional climax, and time is on Breton’s side – the film’s effect certainly lingers. Like many great films, Suite Armoricaine gives us characters who continue to live in our minds – you smile when you remember them, and that smile does mean a lot.
Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2015