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Seaside takes place in a small coastal town on the Bay of Somme. The year-round inhabitants find ways to make their lives work; Paul, a lifeguard in the summer, works at the grocery all winter. His mother, Rose (Ogier) likes to play the slots just about anytime; his girlfriend Marie works in the local factory - the town's biggest business - but watching the summertime vacationers each year just makes her increasingly curious about what else might be out there. From these and several other stories, aided by close, revealing observations, we see a community perched between transition and stasis. Written by
I just watched Lopes-Curval's new 2014 film High Society/Le beau monde as part of Film Comment Selects at Lincoln Center and this led me to go back and re-watch her 12-years-earlier Seaside/Bord de mer (2002), twice; it is available streaming on Netflix. The two films have this common interest in class, a provincial place someone chooses to leave, and couples splitting up, but they are completely different. I think I like this one, her first feature, winner of the Caméra d'Or at Cannes, better than the new one; it seems more original and shows a keener eye.
As viewers have noted this film seems to be about nothing, but in fact is finely observed, with many subtle little moments in the life of this minor resort town with its pebble factory. As Lopes-Curval's new film, High Society/Le beau monde (2014) also shows, she's interested in class, and how a woman may move up and couples may split up along the way. At the outset Paul (Jonathan Zaccaï) and the pretty Marie (Hélène Fillières) are together but Marie is bored with sorting pebbles and with Paul. Rose (Bulle Ogier), Marie's mother, retired from the factory, is a compulsive gambler at the local casino pouring all she has into slot machines. Rose avoids Odette (Liliane Rovère), whom she resents for marrying into the factory owner family (but the factory was failing and Odette's husband sold it). Odette's ineffectual son Albert (Patrick Lizana) works in management at the factory but without motivation or ability. He is married but is attracted to Marie. In the course of the year (the film divided up into seasons from "Été" to Été") these relationships between Marie and Paul, Albert and Marie, Rose and Odette, will shift. We also follow people who come only in the summer; one is a fashion photographer who grew up here but has never thought of using the pebble beach as a background for a shoot till now: people are expected to go far to achieve in his field. Lopes- Curval flats around the little seaside town like Jacques Tati in Jour de Fête, but focusing on feelings and lives not physical comedy. This is the portrait of a place and a little society. It doesn't seek to go into depths about any individuals. But there are crises -- Rose's gambling; Marie's desperation. The film ends comically with a unifying event: a shark alert, like in Jaws, Lopes-Curvas thus wryly pointing to how completely her film eschews overt drama in favor of delicate portraiture that is too low-keyed even for many French tastes. Yet perhaps just for that reason this is a film that continues to yield up its charms on repeated viewings, its lack of any big events making all the little moments of heightened value.
There is a warm an detailed appreciation by Michael Atkinson from the Village Voice when the film, following a Rendez-Vous with French Cinema showing, had a New York theatrical release in 2003. He concludes:
"Scores of other characters come and goincluding a fashion photographer, his blissfully dim girlfriend, and his lovely, increasingly anxious mother (Ludmila Mikaël) but we see them only in random cross sections. The changing of the seasons leaves some of the town's inhabitants gone, some pregnant, some resolved to shoulder their burdens; we are not necessarily privy to the changes or how they came about. We do get subtle gestures and evaporating moments: a mother looking with fondness and worry after her son, a tug on an uncomfortable dress, a cocktail drained too quickly, a decision to hold one's tongue visualized as an eyebrow flex.
"It's a gently sensible strategy that dares to suggest, as Renoir, Ozu, Rohmer, and Kiarostami films do, that you can only know so much about other people by watching them, and that our small 'knowing' says as much about us as it does about the subjects of our attention. Certainly, Hollywood films encourage us to enjoy an absurd God-like omniscience; all relevant thoughts, incidents, and connections are made plain as day. In her first feature, Lopes-Curval lets the human mysteries play out invisibly, and even the actors are forced to economize in short scenes of little dramatic import. A stare held a split second too long or an evaded gaze can mean the world."
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