Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Original Title: ADN
France/Algeria, 2020. Why Not Productions, Arte France Cinema. Screenplay by Mathieu Demy, Maïwenn. Cinematography by Sylvestre Dedise. Produced by Pascal Caucheteux, Olivier Pere. Music by Stephen Warbeck. Film Editing by Laure Gardette. Cannes Film Festival 2020.
Maiwenn‘s fifth directorial effort sees her dipping into aspects of her own real life for this touching, beautifully acted rumination on grief and identity. She plays Neige, a woman who, along with her extended family, visit their aging grandfather in his care home where he is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Before getting seriously ill, her grandfather (Omar Marwan) managed to participate in the publication of a biography about him, a book exploring his life and experiences as an Algerian freedom fighter in his youth, and it is this cultural identity that becomes Neige’s focus when he passes away. The family squabble over the details of planning his funeral service, which brings out the worst bratty behaviour from her glamorous but somewhat self-involved mother Caroline (a very powerful Fanny Ardant), while Neige has her equilibrium shattered, isolating herself from the rest with a fixation on finding out as much as she can about the country from which her grandfather hailed. She reads history books, visits the consulate to get an Algerian passport and even sends away to a DNA lab to find out just how much of her physical body is Algerian (her grandmother was French, and her father’s background is a different, varied mix). This newfound interest coincides with some poor self-care on her part, she picks fights with her estranged father Pierre (Alain Françon), which results in a very convincing dream sequence, and loses her appetite to the point of being very physically weak, her good-natured and humorous partner Francois (a very charismatic Louis Garrel) doing his best to stay in touch with her needs without pushing her way. Maiwenn’s films are not shy about indulging in melodrama, she loves a loud confrontation and an extreme turn of plot, but they are also intelligent and thoughtful even at their most exasperating. The drama here is delicate and internal, there is no political analysis about France’s dark history with Algeria running parallel to the personal stories that we learn, nor is it all about Neige finding peace and closure, as we see in the devastating, climactic confrontation with Caroline that leaves many of her problems hanging in mid-air. It’s a film is about an experience, not a formula for living, and the feeling once it’s over is gratitude to this artist for allowing us to share a piece of her life (however much she has augmented it for artistry’s sake).