Touched By Loneliness By Eero Tammi

in 55th Mannheim International Film Festival Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Eero Tammi

The two French films in competition were clearly among the most personal and interesting works in a very modest selection of competition films at the festival.

From the very first minutes of Franck Guérin’s debut feature Summer Day (Jour d’été) you sense that the director has enough self confidence to work from an intuitive basis to the very end. We are fronted with a sensitive, emotional portrayal of small town people wandering in a difficult state of loss. Something essential and lively vanishes from the quiet lives of the characters, leaving a heart rending emptiness they have to deal with. Guerin’s film has that delightful touch of an energetic young director but it runs in a quiet tempo and has deep understanding for complex human emotions.

Summer Day starts as a story of friendship. Mickaël (Théo Frilet) and Sebastién (Baptiste Bertin), two boys between the ages of 16 and 18, are playing in the same soccer team. Mickaël is an angel faced rebel who likes to smoke cigarettes and read porn magazines. Sebastién is a quiet type who has homoerotic feelings towards his friend. After Mickaël asked Sebastién to watch him make love to a girl in the woods Sebastién stops talking to him. The next day Mickaël has an accident – a goalpost he likes to use for making pushups, falls on him. He goes to a coma and dies. People of the town want to blame the mayor for the bad goalpost. Meanwhile Sebastién remains quiet and starts spending time with Mickaël’s mother (soulfully played by Catherine Mouchet). Summer Day is a beautifully composed film that doesn’t seem to have a structure that existed before the shooting. The director is quietly listening to the environment he is shooting, not brutalizing with the camera. The film is breathing through the locations. The photography captures the bittersweet light of late summer, fitting nicely to the characters’ feelings of melancholy and loss. Psychologically Guérin doesn’t want to give us all the answers concerning his characters. We see that something is changing them from the inside, against their will. They are not as strong as the emotions that are moving them. The relationship developing between Sebastién and Mickaël’s mother is an intriguing study of glances and little movements.

Guerin’s film is in close contact with many of the early works of the nouvelle vague, especially Chabrol’s Le Beau Serge in it’s portrayal of the little town, but it has a genuine, fresh touch of its own. Summer Day is not the kind of film that makes a lot of noise about itself. But Franck Guérin is a new director who should be watched very closely.

Olivier Peyon’s Stolen Holidays (Les petites vacances) is more conventional in its form and look, but it is a strong film and includes a wonderful performance by Bernadette Lafont in a Gena Rowlands like portrayal of a truly complex older woman whose needs nobody seems to care about. The woman leaves her husband and kidnaps her grandchildren for the road. She throws her cellular phone to the sea and starts running away from everything without letting the children realize that their grandmother is keeping them against their parents’ will. Peyon makes us sympathize with the main character as he is unraveling her history of constant loneliness. Roles like this are very rarely written with such a deep understanding for actresses Lafont’s age — and Lafont clearly cares for the part, giving much faith to the young, promising director.