NEW YORK -- The ubiquitous Isabelle Huppert, without whose participation French films apparently can't be made, delivers a typically riveting performance in this murky psychological thriller depicting a road trip undertaken by an emotionally disturbed prostitute and her teenage daughter.
Sporting enough gorgeous visuals of the French countryside to qualify as a travelogue, "La Vie Promise" unfortunately lacks much in the way of compelling narrative or credible characterizations, but it once again reaffirms Huppert's place in the pantheon of French film actors. It is playing an exclusive theatrical engagement at New York's Angelika Theater.
The actress plays Sylvia, a pill-popping prostitute plying her trade in the seamier areas of Nice.
The unexpected arrival of Sylvia's 14-year-old daughter, Laurence (Maud Forget), makes for a less-than-auspicious reunion as she gets caught in the middle during a violent struggle between Sylvia and her pimp and winds up stabbing him to death. The pair immediately take it on the lam, heading north to find Sylvia's former husband and the now 8-year-old son she abandoned shortly after he was born.
The resulting road trip, during which Sylvia and Laurence become separated and also encounter a friendly car thief (Pascal Greggory), constitutes the bulk of the film's running time. By the time Sylvia encounters the family she left behind, it has become quite apparent that she has suffered mental illness, one sign of which is her inability to remember any of the people she encounters from her past.
Ultimately, the story adds up to very little, for which director Olivier Dahan, working from a screenplay by Agnes Fustier-Dahan, attempts to compensate by featuring endless countryside vistas (gorgeously shot in widescreen by Alex Lemarque) and slathering on an oppressively intrusive musical score. Ultimately, the film is best appreciated for Huppert's subtle but emotionally devastating performance in the central role.