This review is a part of Split Reel’s coverage on the Espoo Ciné International Film Festival in Espoo, Finland (19.8.-28.8.). The film was shown as one the films from the theme La Célébration Française.
Les Yeux De Sa Mère is a poor man’s Magnolia, a more polished, superficial version of Anderson’s (and Iñárritu’s for that matter) ensemble style. Besides it’s lacking story, Les Yeux is a beautiful depiction of a complicated family dynamic torn apart by a single decision.
As Maria’s (Géraldine Pailhas) father dies she begins to reflect on her life and the decisions she’s made. She contacts her child that she gave up for adoption at the young age of 16. Bruno (Jean-Baptiste Lafarge, who now lives with a seperated couple, and splits his time between boxing and working at a hotel bar has no interest in seeing her mother. When Maria meets an undercover writer, Mathieu (Nicolas Duvauchelle) that works for her mother (Catherine Deneuve) she grows close to the him, bonding over a brief meeting a decade ago and Mathieu’s charming ways and lies. (Confused already? Just wait.) Maria opens up about her situation with his lost son, Bruno, and Mathieu volunteers to go and meet him, hoping to persuade him to see his mother.
Meanwhile, Maria’s mother, Lena finds out her strong career and fame as a newsreporter is ending as the network wishes to replace her with a younger model. Filled with bitterness, she’s unwilling to let go of the career that made her neglect her daughter when she was growing up.
A complicated saga of people and relationships with a strong erray of actors is weakened by the less than perfect script that retains to novelties and happenstance as its structural core. With a variation of multiple life stories, they need to be intertwined in a way that’s relatable rather than trivial, as we see in Les Yeux’s case.
As the story goes on, I started to feel more connected to the characters, especially after the magnificient midway montage of Maria, dancing at her premiere, Bruno fighting in a boxing game and Lena retiring from her career under a brilliant original tune by Gustavo Santaolalla (if you haven’t heard of this guy, you have to check out his brilliant soundtrack work in Brokeback, Amores Perros and Into The Wild).
As the story and the characters become closer by the end of the film, it all seems a little too late. As we are seeing a story shared by so many people, there’s really no central star that stands staoic admist the tricky, illogical plotline. All the characters share about the same time onscreen, leaving the most interesting story, the relationship between Maria and Mathieu to the background. As Mathieu is trying to figure out Maria’s life in order to write a tell-all book about her and her famous mother, he realizes he’s falling for her. Cornered in a trap of lies we get to see both tragic and humorous situations that he mostly gets away with. As the truth finally comes out, the pain is tangible from both sides.
Lafarge manages a great film debut as a lively gay boxer, who’s drawn in by Mathieu’s mysterious air. As Mathieu pretends to meet Bruno by chance, they form an unexpected connection that leads to even more trouble. Lafarge is captivating on screen, radiating a young, fierce force with his acting. He’s a joy to watch, and will hopefully become one of France’s most popular actors.
Although Deneuve is a staple of French cinema, she remains quite distant as a character. Her role as the distant, unforgiven mother of Maria remains the same throughout the film even though faced with the biggest conflict of here life. She’s never given redemption as a character, and she doesn’t resolve her role as a mother. Her story seems seperate to the rest of the film, and has solely been crafted just to suit Deneuve’s big name.
Despite its flaws, Les Yeux De Sa Mère is an enjoyable relationship drama with thrilling undertones. Some great, real moments occur between the main characters; these moments are portrayed in a beautiful, gentle way. The director, Thierry Klifa, only has a few notches under his belt, but seems to be ambitious as a storyteller and portrayer of character. I’m still excited to see more of his work.
You Will Enjoy Les Yeux De Sa Mère If…