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Fine low-keyed family mystery from Philippe Lioret
When nineteen-year-old Lili Tellier (the sweet, pretty Mélanie Laurent) returns to her parents' cookie-cutter suburban house after a summer studying in Barcelona she's told that after a fight with their father Paul (Kad Merad) over his messy room her fraternal twin Loïc has run off without explanation. We don't know much about Loïc other than that he is a talented musician-songwriter and a rock climber who abhors his dad's drab conformist commuter-train life. Waiting in vain for a call back on her cell phone, Lili is so deeply troubled by the news of Loïc's disappearance that she eats nothing for the next eight or nine days. She collapses and is taken to a psychiatric hospital where she's put to bed and she and her parents are told she can't see anyone till she eats. This she refuses to do and her condition steadily worsens.
Protesting this regime, Lili's father forces the doctor to let her see a letter that has come from Loïc. She gets better and is released and letters keep coming. They show Loïc is drifting from town to town, surviving on odd jobs and playing his guitar for money. Lili stays out of school and becomes a supermarket checkout person like fellow university student Léa (the radiant Aïssa Maïga of Bamako) who became a good pal in Barcelona, and socializes with her and Léa's meteorologist boyfriend Thomas (Julien Boisselier), who helped try to "spring" Lili during her psychiatric confinement. Loïc's letters are a mixed blessing. They give her a thread of hope but leave her in much doubt. Lili can't move forward with her life until she has learned more about Loïc and actually seen him. Is he homeless and desperate or just finding himself? Is there some deeper cause for his absence than a fight over a messy room as one would think and as the psychiatrist said there must have been a deeper cause for Lili's depression than her brother's disappearance? Melanie Laurent has to be the film's center and its mirror. She must achieve balance, suffering and fading yet still somehow appearing to remain alive also to a future as yet undetermined. Isabelle Renauld as Isabelle, Lili's mother, is harried yet always appealing. Paul (Kad Merad) is perhaps the most important character, a drab office worker, a shut-down dad, repressing his anger and self-pity, seemingly without emotion, but capable of more than it seemed. As Lili grows closer to the sensitive and pained looking Thomas, she learns that he and she grew up nearby and have similar backgrounds. The exotic and lovely Léa goes to Mozambique. Lili decides to move out of the house and Paul has new plans for himself and his wife.
Don't Worry holds surprises in store for us. You might call it a mystery of family life. The film's delicate accomplishment is in the way it reveals a secret world hidden in the heart of the commonplace, love behind indifference, a lust for adventure behind timidity. Things are not as they seem. Like a book Thomas presents to Lili, the story ends in a way that is partly sad and partly not.
To some extent the film stands or falls on its surprises because they are the necessary stepping-stones out of the drabness. The suburban setting is also central identical houses that kill the soul highlight emotional ties that alone make life bearable. Lioret works in wide screen, with a bright, conventional palette. The depression happens in the light of day, where it's most hopeless and inescapable. There is nothing chic or showy about this film; it avoids either the glamour of elegance or the glamour of destitution and places its events right at our doorsteps. We may feel a little manipulated in the withholding of key information till the end, but this is how we're drawn into the characters' claustrophobic world. The acting is fine and the changes are subtly modulated, and Don't Worry succeeds in making us both feel and think.
Part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, March 2007, Don't Worry had five César nominations and two wins -- Meilleur Espoir Féminin for Mélanie Laurent and Best Supporting Actor for Kad Merad. No US distributor.
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