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Sylvie is a hooker whose illegitimate daughter commits a crime. She and her daughter flee to find Sylvie's first love in the countryside. The daughter is trying to get to know her unwilling mother. Along the way, the two meet a male fugitive and bond with each other. Written by
Isabelle Huppert gives a superb performance as a pill-popping prostitute in "La Vie Promise," a slice-of-life, hard luck tale set on the highways and byways of rural France. Huppert is Sylvia, a hooker in Nice with a fourteen year old daughter named Laurence, whose existence the jaded streetwalker would prefer not to acknowledge even though Sylvia does give her money on a regular basis. One night, however, Laurence forces herself into her mother's life by stabbing to death the pimp who is thrashing Sylvia to within an inch of her life for some money she owes him. The two women hop aboard a train in an effort to disappear into the countryside. One night, Laurence runs away after the two of them have an argument. Much of the film's time is devoted to the mother and daughter's search for one another, often missing each other by a mere fraction of a second. Joshua is a man whom Sylvia and Laurence meet separately on the road and who, in his strangely quiet way, becomes instrumental in reconciling - both physically and psychologically - the estranged pair.
"La Vie Promise" has a simplicity of style and a purity of vision that keep it from becoming just another tale of a down-and-out prostitute or a tired generation gap drama. Sylvia is a complex character, a hurt and lost soul trying to come to grips with the mistakes she's made and hoping to rectify at least some of those mistakes in this crucial moment of her life. Huppert does a beautiful job conveying both the emotional turmoil and the latent nobility hidden within the recesses of her wounded psyche. The screenplay doesn't try to psychoanalyze the character completely, but allows her to retain much of the mystery and ambiguity that makes her, finally, interesting to the audience. The film does less well with Laurence who really isn't allowed a whole lot of psychological development throughout the story. As a result, young Maud Forget isn't given much opportunity to display her depth and scope as an actress. Pascal Greggory's Joshua is also kept enigmatic, but in his case the ambiguity works well in the context of the story.
The film has been beautifully photographed, and Oliver Dahan's direction contains many lyrical touches that turn the film into a compelling mood piece, employing nature as a prime element in its artistry. But it is Huppert's rich and many-layered performance that brings the film to life.
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