Alix Delaporte's seaside romantic drama is frustrating and unfocused, though she may yet be a director to watch.
Clotilde Hesme's performance in this wispy French coastal town drama is a strange beast indeed. Her character, Angèle, flickers erratically between someone who is seriously mentally disturbed, someone who's just ruthlessly calculating and narcissistic, and someone who's, well, actually just a bit dim.
Having just served a prison term for an undisclosed, accidental crime, she's desperate to win the love and trust of her estranged son, and after discovering that her wild behaviour is getting her nowhere, she decides to ensconce herself within the local fishing community and callously trade off help from the simple-living locals.
One of those locals is dumpy, good-natured doormat, Tony (Grégory Gadebois), who clearly holds a romantic torch for Angèle, but knows that she's a force of nature he'll never be able to properly tame.
Alix Delaporte's film is nobly intentioned and excels at a certain all-pervading, wind-swept glumness that remains a standard of all European films that take place near the seaside. Yet, that's pretty much the best thing you can say about it, as the film sorely lacks focus, both in the tenor of its performances, the thrust of the story and the statements it's trying to make about motherhood and honest living.
Lingering awkwardly in the backdrop of Angèle and Tony's tentative romance is a union dispute involving Tony's firebrand brother who is also, it happens, fixated with the idea of salvaging the body of their father whose ship sank near the port. Beyond trite life lessons that suggest cutting your losses and moving on, these subplots really only serve to dull the intensity of the central drama.
One other problem with this film is it pales in comparison next to the Dardenne brothers' recent The Kid with a Bike, with which it shares more than superficial similarities. Where the Belgian maestros exhibit a cool handle over pacing and can effortlessly licit high drama (and never melodrama) from seemingly mundane situations, Delaporte is seldom able to pull of the same trick and reach a point of fevered intensity.
By two-thirds of the way in, Angèle's fraught quest for stability appears to have sorted itself out, and all that remains is to see out some sentimental mother-child bonding and a ramshackle wedding. It's by no means a disaster and not without its tender moments, but this feels like an inferior riff on a movie that's been made many, many times before.
A French coastal oddball romance that's toured the festivals. Could Delaporte be a director to watch?
Frustrating and unfocused, not least due to Clotilde Hesme's misjudged central performance.
Despite its faults, there's enough here to want to see what Delaporte does next. But only just.