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On the surface, twenty-five year old Bibiane Champagne has the perfect life. She is the daughter of the famed Flo Fabert. She co-owns a chain of boutiques in Quebec with her brother, Philippe. But Bibi's life is in shambles. She has just had an abortion. And the boutiques are failing because of her incompetence, which is the result of or has led to her substance abuse. It is also the result of the high expectations on her. Bibi's story is told by a fish awaiting decapitation on a butcher's block, the fish as narrator largely because of the singular and accidental encounter she has with fifty-three year old Norwegian fishmonger, Annstein Karlsen. That encounter leads to a further failed decision by Bibi and a meeting with Annstein's son, Evian Karlsen, who does not know the full extent of Bibi and his father's relationship. Bibi's time with Evian may provide some salvation to her crumbling life. Written by
The film opens with a large, visibly injured, and obviously fake fish talking directly to the audience. Nearby a man is cutting up fish. The talking fish says that his life in nearly over, and he would like to tell a "pretty" story with his last breaths. Then we cut to a beautiful woman, in a doctor's office. We soon figure out that she is having an abortion. As we see the fetal matter being incinerated and her leaving the building, the grossly perky song "Good Morning Starshine" begins to play. Okay... This is obviously not going to be your normal film.
The woman is named Bibiane (Marie-Josée Croze), and she turns out to be the main character. Perhaps related to the abortion, it soon becomes clear that her life is not going too well right now. Not long into the film she is removed from her position in the family business, a chain of upscale clothing stores, by her brother (although at first I thought he was her estranged or ex-husband).
Most reviews or plot summaries go into more detail about events that occur in the middle and end of the film, but I'll keep it to that. There are some rather unlikely coincidences along the way, in case that sort of thing bothers you. And there is a distinct water theme, which is not surprising given the title. I would classify the film as primarily a drama, since the laughs are mostly at surprising events rather than strictly funny ones, and because the film kept me feeling slightly uncomfortable throughout.
Marie-Josée Croze is very good here. The cinematography is excellent, with at least one shot that took my breath away. The story and the direction, both by Denis Villeneuve, on the other hand, are somewhat suspect. Besides the aforementioned coincidences, several scenes are juxtaposed in a seemly random manner, and you can't figure them out until later if then. Now this could just be a mechanism to get you to think, and in the wake of Memento (which came out at about the same time as this film) one is becoming used to the idea of the film structure mirroring the main character's thought processes. I'm not sure I completely buy this argument, but I'll give it a little leeway.
This film won the best picture, direction, cinematography, screenplay, and actress awards in Canada at their equivalent of the Academy Awards, but it is only just now getting to the United States, where it is expected to play for a very short time. In the San Jose, CA area it is expected on May 17th.
Seen on 5/5/2002 at the Camera Cinema Club in San Jose, CA.
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