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Avril is a novice in a convent of "Baptistine" sisters, a monastic order which was officially dissolved by the end of the nineteenth century but that is kept alive by Mère Marie Joseph, the sadistic superior. The rule she imposes on the nuns is particularly strict but this is all Avril has ever known since she was born, for she was an abandoned child raised by the nuns with a view to making one of them. While Avril is on retreat, locked in for a fortnight in a chapel prior to taking her vows, Soeur Bernadette, a sympathetic sister, discloses a secret to her: she has a twin brother and she encourages her to go looking for him... Written by
A very offbeat exciting film debut for Gerald Hustache-Mathieu.With "Avril", his first full-length film, the fledgling movie-maker has opted for a story set in and out of a convent, with a young nun as its central character, which is going against the flow, particularly in the France of 2006,not a particularly religious country. Which also makes viewing this U.F.O. an intriguing and rewarding experience.
Hustache-Mathieu (what a name!) must first be congratulated on his miraculous soft touch. One of the themes being that of a young nun awakening to "secular" life, one could have feared some smutty details, which luckily never happens. For, although Avril gradually discovers her body and ends up bathing in the nude, vulgarity is never on the agenda. Likewise, although Pierre, a traveling hardware merchant, develops a crush on her and the two young men they meet and mix with are gay, nothing dirty is ever shown. The writer-director respects his characters and his empathy is communicative. We feel good with these three-dimensional characters and we would like them to exist in real life to prolong the pleasure of their company.
Also pleasant is the skilfully devised plot. The director has a knack for doling out surprises throughout the story and we never know in advance where he is leading us.At the beginning, "Avril" tells the tale of a novice about to take her vows, then it changes to Avril discovering her twin brother and his lover in the company of Pierre in a holiday atmosphere. The final chapter throws light on all the mysteries (Who is Avril's biological mother? Why wasn't Avril told before that she had a brother?) only to tip into violence and more mystery.
This stimulating narration is enhanced by topnotch acting: Sophie Quinton, impeccably going through all the stages of the evolution of her character from awkward naive nun to full-fledged woman, leads the cast. But all the others are wonderful as well, from Miou-Miou as a distressed sister to Geneviève Casile as the demented Mother Superior, from Nicolas Duvauchelle, adding delicacy to good looks, to Richaud Valls, both hilarious and engaging.
All in all an original first film by a gifted new French movie-maker, avoiding to fall into the traps too many of his colleagues eagerly fall into: arty self-absorption or prime time vulgarity.
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