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Topical examination of French youth culture, quite polished
I think that Jean-Paul Civeyrac is one of French cinemas undiscovered treasures (a line that festival devotees bandy round a lot), although I don't think this film in particular is going to offer immediate pressing evidence of that although I found it was pretty good.
Civeyrac by his own admission is hugely influenced by Symbolism and often you can find references to ancient myth or classic literature in his work. What he does though is vary the overtness and level of symbolism in his films. À travers la forêt, for example, which I think is a great movie, is full of references to Racine and classical mythology/dramaturgy and has the potency of a Sophoclean tragedy. But with Young Women In Black he's very much upped the level of realism. Whilst there are references to Heinrich von Kleist these are mostly realistic, young Gothic women do actually read stuff like that. On the way to see another film last night I even saw a young gentleman reading Kleist on the tube. He's a writer that those who wish to dissociate from zeitgeist tend to gravitate towards.
In the Q&A following the screening Civeyrac was keen to play down the level of influence that he'd had from Jean Cocteau, although, for example, it's quite clear in À travers la forêt (cf. Orphée), and he later went on in the same Q&A to refer to Les Enfants Terrible as perhaps a cinematic forbear of the relationship between the two leads in the film.
To the stuff of the film itself, we have two young Goth ladies (Noémie and Priscilla) who have become extremely disillusioned with life, making many of the classic mistakes of youth, for example dating the cutest yet nastiest and most manipulative person you can find (definitely the "nice guy comes last" phase of life!). They are convinced that they are not loved although they clearly are. On their mephitic bedroom floors you can find strewn Doc Martens and other detritus, on the walls death-inspired doodling (a girl on a swing on one side of a tree, a hanged man suspended from the other side).
They are at heart quite interesting gentle people, and yet they aren't able to see any of the beauty in life. I think my favourite symbol of this is when Priscilla casually boots a board of Lalique chessman tinkling all over the floor. Later a scene of tragedy is framed by the wonderful flowers of Noemie's grandparents' garden. The old folk have learnt that the only beauty you get out of life is that which you cultivate yourself.
Familiar teenage conversations abound, the two girls are sat in a café and look at slightly sad-eyed middle-aged men claiming "il est foutu" (he is a goner), as if they have some sort of special insight into the lives of the people they see, that a glance reveals all. Whilst it is true that life can be excessively cruel to some people, and that their tragedies go largely unnoticed, there is no particular reason that such needs to be the case for these two girls, who are pretty and fairly bright. They don't see the point in school, why study to be unemployed, or to work and be exploited or an exploiter. There is a dark pessimistic paranoia to most of their conversations, which always nonetheless contains some grain of truth.
The genesis of the movie is relating to a recent spate in France of dual suicides by young women or girls (don't worry that is not a spoiler for the movie!). I think Civeyrac wanted to explore the folly of that. Audience members were concerned that it wasn't a responsible movie, but I totally refute that and I think they missed the point big time in what was a strange Q&A at the London Film Festival. A highlight for me is perhaps a recital of a Bach flute Partita for Solo Flute in C Minor.
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