Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
France, 1981. Sara Films, France 2. Screenplay by Bertrand Blier, based on his novel. Cinematography by Sacha Vierny. Produced by Alain Sarde. Music by Philippe Sarde. Production Design by Theobald Meurisse. Costume Design by Michele Cerf. Film Editing by Claudine Merlin. Boston Film Critics Awards 1981. Cannes Film Festival 1981.
Never one to fear problematic sexual relationships, Bertrand Blier makes his most taboo film yet with this surprisingly sweet tale of family connections. After her mother (a cameo by Nicole Garcia) is killed in an automobile accident, Ariel Besse announces that she would rather stay with her stepfather (Patrick Dewaere) than live with her estranged club-owner father (Maurice Ronet), who is still bitter over his wife leaving him for one of his musicians. Besse then surprises her adoring stepdad when she tells him that she is ready, at fourteen, to enter adulthood and wants him to be the one to break her in because she is madly in love with him. He tells her that their having a relationship is impossible, first because of the law and second because he cannot see her that way, but she won’t give up her teenage obsession and, eventually, circumstances find him indulging in the Lolita fantasy that she presents. It sounds pretty horrifying in description, like Pretty Baby without the pretense of ornate artistic licence, but Blier isn’t interested in exploiting the situation for its lascivious possibilities. What we get here is an exploration of the human transition from childhood to maturity, wondering why that tender period is such a hot button topic for us all, with the addition of a young woman’s reacting to her fears of adulthood and the trauma of her loss by overdoing her connection with the one person she feels protected by. Add to that Blier’s usual tale of modern-day masculinity (which he always presents as a false front for something more ignoble) in crisis and you have a surprisingly sensitive film about a very disturbing subject that actually plays it so safe that at times it’s actually a bit dull. Besse, who only made a few films before going back to civilian life, handles the role of the overconfident teenager with impressive ease, but it’s the late, great Dewaere who needs to walk a fine line: it’s not an easy task he is given of keeping the audience on his side, but he never overplays his reactions to his young co-star and there’s always a sense of the tragic clown to him thanks to Blier’s always putting him in the unenviable position. Nathalie Baye sparkles in her few moments towards the end as the mother of one of Besse’s babysitting charges.