Tag Archives: Marina de Van

LIST CANDIDATE: SITCOM (1998)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Évelyne Dandry, , Adrien de Van, Lucia Sanchez

PLOT: The father of a bourgeois family brings home a white lab rat as a pet; taboos break and hilarity ensues as the rat has psychic (?) encounters with one family member after another.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: I asked my Magic 8-Ball about the List prospects of this Metamorphosis-as-a-French-comedy-of-manners with spontaneous homosexual awareness, paraplegia-onset sadomasochism, a mysterious pet rat, and a steady stream of patrician epigrams: “Signs point to ‘Yes’.”

COMMENTS: The spirit of Luis Buñuel lives on with François Ozon’s ultra-French take on the family comedy, Sitcom. All the Buñuel boxes (or, “boîtes”, if I may) are checked down the line: upper-middle class family, domestic setting, the crumbling of norms. Playing like its titular genre, Sitcom relies heavily on its capacity for clever silliness, while subverting that self-same genre’s cliched “Family meets Challenge to finish with a Happy Ending.” The family here, however, careens immediately over the edge, the challenge comes in the form of a possibly paranormal rat, and the happy ending is ripped straight from ‘s long-forgotten “whimsical” period.

The unnamed father (François Marthouret) returns home one afternoon with a lab rat, adding a pet to his already very nuclear family. That evening a dinner party brings together the father, the mother (Évelyne Dandry), their son Nicolas (Adrien de Van), their daughter Sophie (Marina de Van), their Spanish maid María, and María’s Cameroonian husband, Abdu. Immediately beforehand, Nicolas has a moment alone with the rat, and at table he is restless until he announces out of the blue that he is homosexual. The mother recruits Abdu—a physical education teacher with experience counseling teenagers—to talk to her boy. As Abdu tries to work out his approach, he sees the rat, gets bitten by it, and then proceeds to help the son confirm his homosexuality in an altogether hands-on kind of way. In turn, each household member has his or her life-changing encounter with the rat.

While Sitcom is an ensemble piece, with each family member’s collapse and growth explored, the focus ends up, almost through omission, on the father. During his son’s discovery and embrace of homosexuality, his daughter’s failed suicide that turns her into both a paraplegic and a dyspeptic dominatrix, and his wife’s eventual seduction of the son, he remains impressively unflappable. When Sophie asks him if he knows about what happened between his wife and son, he remarks, “Of course”, adding, “I don’t think incest will solve the problems of Western Civilization, but your mother is an exceptional woman.” However, Sophie’s hopes of seducing her father are soon quashed when he admits he does not find her attractive. Having only aphoristic rejoinders to scandalous revelations, the father figure remains something of a cypher.

One hint is given during the opening dinner scene. The father delivers a monologue about the Ancient Greeks, musing, “Homosexuality was an institution with no shame.” Here’s a man who is quite probably gay himself, but he retreats into the trappings of bourgeois convention. And Ozon somehow litters other contemplative and tender moments throughout the zany norm-breaking silliness. Maria comforts Sophie’s much put-upon boyfriend in an NC-17+ kind of way in one scene, and things are kept impressively platonic as Nicolas washes his sister’s hair while talking about his encounter with their mother, both naked in the tub together. And so it goes. I’m not certain on the particulars of how I stumbled across this movie during college, but I saw it around the same time as Visitor Q. That’s appropriate, as I cannot think of two more feel-good family comedies.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Francois Ozon’s absurd, outre “Sitcom” rips a page straight from the Luis Bunuel handbook of bourgeois contempt and writes a novella of relentless sociosexual ludicrousness brought to a Guignol head by the lab rat who’s moved in with the suburban family under siege… Ozon is seemingly attracted to our pop garbage, jamming a few sticks of Acme TNT in the structural silliness of our sitcoms and watching it go ‘boom.'” –Wesley Morris, San Francisco Examiner (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: DON’T LOOK BACK [NE TE RETOURNE PAS] (2009)

DIRECTED BY: Marina de Van

FEATURING: Sophie Marceau, Monica Bellucci, Andrea Di Stefano

PLOT: As she struggles to write an autobiographical novel, a writer with childhood amnesia

Still from Don't Look Back [Ne te retourne pas] (2009)

finds that everything she sees—her apartment, her husband’s face, and even her own image in the mirror—is changing into something unfamiliar.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST:  The sophomore effort by rising bizarre star Marina de Van arrives as a slight disappointment.  The opening segments are disquieting without being bang-up weird, and by the end the mystery is resolved too completely, leaving nothing to linger in the mind.

COMMENTSDon’t Look Back mines the psychological terrain of jamais vu: the strange feeling you get when you enter a room you’ve been in hundreds of times and everything suddenly looks different, or when you look at the face of the person you’ve slept next to for a decade and see a stranger.  Sophie Marceau begins as Jeanne, the woman who finds that her kitchen furniture has been rearranged, the Paris city streets are no longer familiar, and her husband and children are making strange hand gestures when she’s not looking.  Initially she just seems paranoid, but the incidents keep building until finally her entire family has been replaced by different actors whom she doesn’t recognize, and we’re convinced there’s something seriously amiss inside Jeanne’s mind.  The breaking point comes when she looks into the mirror and sees an unfamiliar face staring back at her—on her left side, she still looks like Sophie Marceau, but the right side of the image is the face of Monica Bellucci.  Based on a clue she finds in a photo, Jeanne (now being played by Bellucci rather than Marceau) travels to an Italian village where she finds herself in a situation that’s almost the reverse of Paris: she recognizes the faces she sees as those of her husband, mother, etc., but no one she encounters seems to have a clue as to who she is.   It’s an intriguing premise, and the film is sincere, well-executed, and clever—and it’s also one of those movies where, by the end, you’re puzzled why it’s turned out merely solid rather than exceptional.  Part of the problem is the pace.  The movie starts slow, and keeps piling up weird incidents long after we’ve gotten the point that something’s cracked inside Jeanne and are anxious to get moving towards some answers.  The use of horror movie music cues to inform us that something uncanny is taking place is overdone and gauche, almost to the point of parody.  Containing two episodes of traumatically interrupted intercourse and more than a hint of incest, the movie flirts with ideas of sexual repression and perversion that, in the end, turn out to have nothing to do with Jeanne’s psychology.  And although the movie gets into a nice weird groove in the run up to the finale, where Jeanne now seems to be turning from Bellucci into a third actress at a wild village party, the script explains itself too completely by the end.  Although the solution to the mystery is intellectually satisfying, it doesn’t provide the emotional chills and thrills it should.  Looking back on the “clues” scattered through the earlier parts of the film, you realize that many of them didn’t add up; they were just arbitrary strange occurrences that let you know something was off but didn’t assist you to guess what it was, and so you feel cheated.  That said, the ending is unexpected and should keep you interested enough to keep watching.  The half Marceau/half Bellucci effect is truly novel and uncanny.  And the performances by the two French beauties are superlative: Marceau sets up the character, but it’s remarkable how Bellucci picks her up mannerisms so that you never question that this is the same character inhabiting two different bodies (to a lesser extent, the same compliment can be applied to Andrea Di Stefano and Thierry Neuvic, the two men who play Jeanne’s husband).  The end result is not a disaster, but given everything the movie apparently has going in its favor, it’s underwhelming.

De Van’s previous film was In My Skin [Dans Ma Peau] (2002), a shocking and mysterious portrait of a woman’s obsessive self-mutilation.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a traumatic and reductive incident from Marceau/Bellucci’s past is to blame—hence the title—which makes the entire film feel like the laborious setup for a dopey Twilight Zone twist.”–Mike D’Angelo, Onion A.V. Club (Cannes screening)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)

DIRECTED BY: Marina de Van

FEATURING: Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker

PLOT: Esther is a nice yuppie girl who enjoys her office job.  She also enjoys dismantling and consuming her own body.  After disfiguring her leg in an accident, Esther develops a necrotic fascination with herself and begins to self-mutilate.  She engages in auto-cannibalism while having hallucinations of limb disassociation.

Still from In my Skin [Dans ma Peau] (2002)


WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: In My Skin is a different kind of horror movie. It plays on those grisly nightmares about things like inexplicably sudden tooth and hair loss, parasitism and other subconscious fears centering on uncontrollable bodily damage. There are no phantoms or monsters in De Van’s film, no outside threat. The horror comes from within as a woman sinks into insanity and demolishes her body.

COMMENTS: In My Skin is a study of morbid preoccupation with the physical nature of the human condition. It explores dissatisfaction with body image, and the finding of a decadent delight in its destruction. The lead character seeks psychological satiation through bodily deconstruction and self-consumption  She tries in vain to attack inexplicable and inexorable anxiety via the demolition of the human vessel.

Esther (De Van) falls on some construction debris in back of a friend’s house and gashes her leg open. Oddly insensitive to the pain, she does not sense the severity of her ghastly injury. She discovers the extent of the damage later, but even then, she goes to a bar before seeking treatment. When she finally does obtain medical assistance, she perversely declines measures to prevent disfigurement. At this point, her psyche undergoes a sinister change.

In My Skin is reminiscent of a Ray Bradbury story entitled “Skeleton” (one of two he wrote Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: IN MY SKIN [DANS MA PEAU] (2002)