by Allan Fish
(France 1977 107m) not on DVD
Aka. The Lacemaker
In casino fortuna
p Yves Gasser d Claude Goretta w Pascal Lainé, Claude Goretta novel Pascal Lainé ph Jean Boffety ed Joelle Van Henterre, Nelly Meunier, Martine Charasson m Pierre Jansen art Serge Etter, Claude Chevant
Isabelle Huppert (Béatrice), Yves Beneyton (François), Florence Giorgetti (Marylène), Anne-Marie Düringer (Béatrice’s mother), Sabine Azéma (Corinne), Christian Baltauss (Gérard), Jean Obé (François’ father), Monique Chaumette (François’ mother),
Though listed as Béatrice, Isabelle Huppert’s central protagonist is nicknamed Pomme. It’s not an inappropriate name, for she is fond of said fruit, and is regularly seen biting into one through the course of the film. With her trademark flame-red hair and freckles, Huppert couldn’t look less like an apple, but it’s one of the great performances, to these eyes just about the greatest she ever gave; no mean boast.
Pomme/Béatrice works as an assistant at a local beauty-hair salon, while living at home with her mother. To coincide with her eighteenth birthday, a friend takes her away to the Normandy coast for a break. In actual fact, the friend is more interested in getting away from her own relationship debris, and it becomes apparent that one of the main reasons she befriends Pomme is to have someone to talk at about her problems. While on holiday, she finds another man and thinks nothing of leaving Pomme by herself in the resort. Pomme spends her days alone but comes across a young arts student, François. After a slow courtship they sleep together, but then their relationship starts to unravel when it becomes clear to François that she isn’t at his intellectual level.
Let’s forget the apple analogy for the minute, for there’s an even more accurate analogy; less obvious, a blink and you’ll miss it moment, but significant all the same. Pomme is walking along a beach and she stops suddenly to crouch down and examine the seashell residue on the shore. She picks up a large shell and puts it into her pocket. Much later on, she takes the shell out of her pocket and places it atop a grave marker in a World War II cemetery. She herself is much like the shell, a void waiting for a substance that doesn’t come. When she undresses herself for bed, she is seen laying her nightdress out as if she’s going to be buried in it. When she finally undresses prior to making love, François removes the sheet to find her with her arms across her chest like an Egyptian queen awaiting mummification. She’s dead but breathing.
Watching the film one becomes aware of a deep influence here, that of Robert Bresson; the film shares Bresson’s rigorous form and understated naturalistic acting with a preciseness of mise-en-scène and meaning that is exemplary. Pomme goes from those crosses to rows of benches in the garden of a sanatorium, pretending to her ex- that she’s loved again since, but making it all up from posters in the inmates’ common room, wistful non-memories from posters of Greece. There are indeed similarities to one Bresson film in particular, Une Femme Douce; both films deal with heroines of great almost subservient, enigmatic passivity. Both are driven apart from their men by a gap in education and class. In Bresson’s film, the heroine jumps to her death, in Goretta’s she withdraws into that symbolic shell and an utter and complete mental breakdown. Unlike Dominique Sanda, whose performance was subservient to Bresson’s schema, Huppert’s work is of even greater subtlety. She’s average, an everyday nobody who people would walk past in a night club while she sits silently in the corner, neither wanting to be singled out or ignored, just existing. By the end, she’s reduced to the status of a zombie-like nun walking up and down cloisters as if by instinct alone. One shares François’ pain upon seeing her, but it’s that last shot that will shatter you, as she turns to the camera and beyond, beyond even the audience, as if looking through the window at an apple on a tree and letting her gaze transport her out of the here and now and into the infinite. A contentedness to be absolutely nothing; it’s truly crushing.