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This pan-European first feature focuses on people rather than dramatic events and concerns a Frenchman Victor (Paul Blain) married to an Austrian woman, Annette (Christine Friedrich). When we meet Victor and Annette they're living in Austria in close proximity to her large family, and they have a six-year-old daughter, Pamala (Victoire Rousseau). Take one look at Victor and the face says, lazy, hedonistic, dissolute, frustrated, angry--with a smiling, people-pleasing exterior. This is some great casting. Friedrich, on the other hand, simply seems one of those healthy, slightly stolid Nordic moms. Victor is a failed writer. His drug addiction is going to lead to heartbreak, and worse. Half the time she speaks to him in German and he answers in French. They aren't on quite the same wave length.
The couple moves to Paris, where Victor is no happier or more productive. Whatever Annette is doing, he's spending his days dabbling at writing and hanging out and his nights out getting high without Annette's knowing his whereabouts. His moods are not good and he's verbally and physically abusive. Eventually Annette wises up, gets angry herself, and goes off to Vienna for the holidays with Pamala. Victor seizes this opportunity to get further involved with his user girlfriend, Gisele (Olivia Ross), who teaches him to shoot up. Before long in this linear, but choppy narrative she's dead of an overdose. After a while he has a mental and physical breakdown (the time sequence always a bit vague) and winds up in a sanatorium.
An inter-title announces an interval of eleven years. Annette and Pamala are living in Paris again and part of a comfortable bourgeois French family; that is, the new husband is French. Victor is around somewhere too, rehabilitated, looking healthy enough, a bit better dressed, and working at some sort of job as a reader for a publishing house. Pamala of course is now a grownup girl (and played by Constance Rousseau, Victoire's older sister), and she wants to meet her father again after all these years. At first this goes well, with sincere feelings on both sides, and an exchange of letters that are read to us while Pamala is away on summer holiday. For Victor the meeting is hugely important but also a terrible reminder of all he might have done and might have been. It awakens bad memories, and the ultimate outcome is tragic.
The co-authors Hansen-Love and Clementine Schaeffer skip narrative connective tissue in telling their tale, nor do they necessarily include all the key moments to dramatize. Exactly how Victor gets into the sanatorium isn't shown, for instance, nor when he and Annette get divorced, and so on. There is a certain casual elegance in this, a simplicity, a naturalness with setting, a focus on conversation, but at times the progression is simply unclear. There is no effort made whatever to make Annette or Victor look any older in their scenes set over a decade later. Rousseau as the adult Pamala is not impressive; she seems just a conventional bourgeois girl reciting her lines. Annette's new French husband is a good posh bohemian Parisian. Annette has a comfortable job cataloging things at the Musee d'Orsay. All this is casually sketched in.
'All is Forgiven' is a stylishly minimal production, with a spare, striking use of Scottish folk tunes and hand-held camera work. The acting by Blain and Friedrich is convincing. This first film is a sincere and creditable effort that promises quality work to come, but it does not overwhelm.
Part of the "Quinzaine des Realisateurs" (Directors' Fortnight) at Cannes 2007, shown at the semi-rep MK2 Hautefeuille in Paris, October 2007. The series also included 'Avant que j'oublie' and 'Caramel' as well as 'Control', 'Chop Shop', and Araki's 'Smiley Face.'
Presented as part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, New York, February 29-March 9, 2008.
(My comment originally written in Paris October 23, 2007.)
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