By Claudia Siefen
And then: “You will see the sea first”. –
Céline is 11 years old and preparing meals for her two younger siblings. Their mom (Sylvie Testud) is a petite woman, working long shifts at a café and dreaming of different life, a life where she is adored as a carefree woman and not stressed with the responsibilities of a mother. She feels forsaken by her husband (Jacques Bonnaffé) who is jobless and feels aggrieved by his own passivity. Not moving from the couch seems the only way not to wake up. Because moving means accepting life and its duties, even if these duties turned out to be so different from those you dreamed about. The parents dream about world where acceptance only means sexual approval. Mom is flirt with young customers and dad is abuses his eldest daughter.
In all this passivity, ignorance and awkwardness wrapped up in cotton wool, Céline (Lou-Lelia Demerliac) is comes a strong character almost inappropriate for a child. The camera and framing (Jean-Philippe Bouyer) stays close to the protagonists so you literally feel the cramped confines. Here the so called grown up world means not to mention certain things, to play the game of not talking. Things will fall into place, no? Céline does not have friends at school but feels happy nevertheless because a school trip is just around the corner! They will go seaside and dressed in cheap clothes again she does not forget to turn to her father and warn him: “Don’t touch my sister”.
“She is weird!”. “She is talking to her doll!”. “She is smelly!”. Look at her!”.
The bus ride starts with rainy weather. And Céline is a master in ignoring her mates’ chatter. She will see and smell the ocean. Getting out of the bus in the north of Bordeaux, where the sand is soft and the air salty, Céline enjoys while building a kind of sandcastle with some stuff she found on the seashore. And her doll is the queen of that little installation. She plays alone, of course, and she ignores the soft male voice asking her what exactly she is doing there. That voice belongs to a grown-up who learned in a bitter way the meanings of parenthood. Also important, he respects Céline’s silence and so he (Douglas Gordon) simply walks away.
Like so many times already in her life Céline goes astray, and comes across a truck parking close to the beach. It is dark already and the police gets called because one girl on the school trip is missing. Céline could not care less. She hides in the driver’s cab, she’s not that scared when the truck starts moving into the night. It takes some time until Peter spots her in the driving mirror. He is the man who asked about her little castle hours ago. He does not speak french and Céline’s english is poor but she understands him well when she asks about her name. Her answer for now is “Hmmm…”.
From this time on we accompany them both on their way… and the director Agnès B. creates a pure visual meditation along the coast (co-writer Jean-Pol Fargeau). The fresh air, the coast at night, the wine growing area. They walk the fields and woods together, meeting people, even japanese dancers.
Peter wants to show Céline the cathedral Notre-Dame de Royan, a turning-point of modern architecture just to convince Céline, that a building means shelter. Home. Even if it is a church…
Peter drives the truck, he was close to suicide but find a reason to continue his life, at least for a few days. His family died because of a car accident. He was the driver. Céline seems to be his last station on earth, and he wants to show her, that people can be nice, and that parents can be good friends and responsible-minded. But above all or most importantly he shows her that it’s doesn’t matter what horrible things you have experienced in your life: don’t make it ever a reason to become a bitter human being, or to pay someone witch his own. If you had a rotten childhood you are still able to be a good father or mother. That isn’t a reason: you will always impact other people’s life, with all your behaviour, all your words and actions. Agnès B. is able to give that “lesson” in a beautiful non-agitated way, in several tender scenes, maybe you will miss some of them. And she finds the most important things in life even in heartbreaking moments: humour. And then you will see the sea first.