19 March 2009

La Belle Personne

Directed by Christophe Honoré
Written by Christophe Honoré & Gilles Taurand
Full credits from IMDb

Produced for French television, La Belle Personne is “like a French Gossip Girl,” B.A.M.’s programmer said before a recent screening. About the drama queens (and kings) in a high school, the movie revolves around teachers sleeping with teachers, students sleeping with students, and students sleeping with teachers. (It’s that last one, presumably, that makes this the French Gossip Girl.) Eschewing the gritty authenticity of the recent French high school flick The Class, Honoré’s film instead embraces the style of the American primetime soap opera. It’s more CW than Canal Plus, and there’s nothing wrong with that—in theory, anyway.

For a filmmaker with a proven potential for playfulness, I expected Honoré would have a bit of fun working within this youthful milieu. His Dans Paris, released in the U.S. in 2007, exhibited exhilaratingly free-spirited moviemaking: characters spoke without moving their lips, addressed the audience, spontaneously broke into song. But here the director treats the material with a sour puss, as though he were a bummed-out high schooler himself. Though it boasts a few strong, if small, moments—such as a tracking shot that follows a note as it travels across a classroom—Honoré’s film presents every one of its interpersonal dramas as an end-of-the-world crisis. One kid is driven to suicide.

Really? I mean, for a director to take high school so seriously can be commendable, as it accurately reflects the lives of the characters. But if you’re not going to be campy about it, it’s necessary to include an overarching adult perspective, if not in the tone than at least among the cast, as the audience knows (or ought to, anyway) that high school is a lot less important than it seems at the time. The grown-ups here, however—particularly frequent collaborator Louis Garrel, as a ravishing Italian teacher with a fondness for dark-haired, teenage Godardian beauties—are worse than the kids, histrionically hung up on puppy love. (That said, the gloomy Nick Drake tunes that make up much of the soundtrack work quite well.) The same self-seriousness that suffocated the second-half of Honoré’s last film, Love Songs, smothers this film from beginning to end. Well, nearly the end: La Belle Personne finds its verve close to its close, with a comic stalking passage (perhaps an homage to In the City of Sylvia?) and a race through the streets and parks of Paris, set to a baroque harpsichord. Honoré would do well to lighten up like this more often, to abandon chronicling lovelorn characters consumed with straight-faced melodrama. Dourness alone does not become him. Grade: C+

Watch the trailer:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, your perspective seems immensly warped by modern day TV and society. Honoré has, in fact managed to transport one of the most famous and important love stories of French literature into a modern day setting and thus make the story accessible from all angles. La Princesse de Clèves by Madame de Lafayette, is a canon for many love stories and I suppose what is most unfortunate is the fact that La Belle Personne is not understood in relation to its original context but rather as a 'french Gossip Girl', a belittlement that totally undermines the importance of this adaptation and seems ignorant in its comparison to a TV show that devastatingly dominates modern American television. It is true that the film contains heavy drama, especially with the suicide of Otto, but it is important to understand that this drama follows closely a story that was set in a high society court and not in an average lycee on the outskirts of Paris.
The film is genius in its transportation of a classic story into a modern setting and I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to read the book, it comes in both English and French and I am sure other languages.