Chignon D’Olga

Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts

Starring: Hubert Benhamdine, Nathalie Boutefeu, Serge Raiboukine
Director: Jerome Bonnell

This wonderfully warm, witty drama set against the backdrop of family bereavement is a superb study of grief, loneliness, longing for love and familial relationships after the loss of a mother. Her husband Gilles and two children Julien and Emma (who are both at the threshold of adulthood) are left to pick up the pieces and get on with life as best they can.

None of them ever speak about their feelings of grief as each tries to carry on their life as normal and deal with it in their own way. Their struggle to communicate, whilst talking a lot about nothing at all, is compelling. Even then, the mother’s loss is only implied by their actions and occasionally their words, and through their various interactions with other characters – indeed her Christian name is never mentioned. But this never feels frustrating or irritating – only touching and a strangely ‘normal’ reaction to have.

Julien is wandering the streets looking for love (he becomes obsessed with a book shop assistant called Olga, who always wears her hair in a chignon) whilst Emma is struggling bravely with an identity crisis and the fact that she seems to have unintentionally taken over her mother’s role in the home.

What makes this film exceptional is that it was directed by Jerome Bonnell – aged only 23 at the time – who was even younger when he wrote the screenplay. Family bereavement is not the type of phrase that seems to sit easily with ‘warm and witty’ in the same sentence but what emerges is an exceptionally mature and assured film, Bonnell exploring his deep and affecting themes with a lightness and deftness of touch that belies his age and experience.

The editing is tight and every scene has something to say, leaving no room for untidy excess and ensuring that the film holds your attention all the way through.

The only thing that jarred was the soundtrack, an ode to Bonnell’s obvious predilection for the films of Charlie Chaplin (several clips of his films are shown within the film, as he is the favourite comedian of Gilles) but for me the film could have benefited from a less prissy, formal soundtrack – it was far too gloomy and antique in most places to go with what seemed to be such a modern film in every other way. It could have done with more impressionist music (there is only one excerpt of this, which seemed to match the rest of the film better), something lighter to complement the lightness brought out in the script.

The film is perfectly paced, and the dialogue and character interaction is witty, fluent and comfortable. Bonnell coaxes superb natural performances from his actors, notably in a strong debut from first timer Benhamdine and with wonderful performances from Nathalie Boutefeu as Julien’s best friend Alice and Florence Loiret Caille as Emma.

A supremely confident and assured full length debut from a director/screenwriter to watch.

6 out of 6 stars

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