Unglamorous Life on the Riviera By Marcel Martin

in 58th Locarno International Film Festival

by Marcel Martin

Of her second feature film, Riviera, Anne Villacèque (42), said: “I love writing stories that have a precise relationship to society; I have finished a documentary in Marseille about eleven and twelve-year-old girls, their problems with their bodies, their dreams; they are all potential starlets for TV reality programmes: pretty, full of life, and already destroyed by the idea of having to look like someone on television”.

This is the ideological and social background of Riviera, the title of which suggests a romantic background. The setting is very impressive with its blue sea, dazzling lights by day and night: but the film is never really descriptive, the filmmaker says: “I didn’t want it to be a tourist brochure. By shooting with long focal length lenses only, we were able to make the city more unreal, more magical”.

This is the locale of the story of two women, Stella, a 17-year-old beautiful blonde (Vahina Giocante) who is a dancer in a night club of a luxury hotel where her mother Antoinette (Miou Miou) is a chambermaid, the victim of a frustrating way of life. She wants her daughter’s life to change by putting her in the arms and bed of a wealthy foreigner arriving in this hotel whom, at the same time, she expects to seduce. This situation will drastically change the life and hopes of both women. The film shows the various conditions of sex in society: exploitation (Stella as a gogo girl), frustration (the mother desperately alone), perversion (the man inclined to violence).

Among the many films of contemporary French cinema which deal with the psychological, sentimental and existential problems of the petit bourgeois, Riviera is a striking social document that presents a situation in the class war. However, it is clear that this political dimension is not imposed on the film by Anne Villacéque but is perceived by two women motivated solely by an instinctive revolt against their inferior position without understanding the political implications of their dissatisfaction. In refusing all picturesque aspects of the mise-en-scene, the director approaches the subject in a quasi-documentary manner combined with remarkable camera work and dramatic close-ups of the characters. One can, therefore, appreciate the intellectual ambition of the director and the visual treatment with which she realises it. The sad ending possibly makes the film uncomfortable for a public expecting romance but it makes Riviera an original and captivating creation.