By Mónica Delgado
This third feature film by French filmmaker Aurélia Georges draws on classic forms. Being the adaptation of a story by the English writer Wilkie Collins, published in 1873, La Place d’une autre maintains fidelity to the spirit and literary style, which seeks to establish distances and correspondences between social classes, and between the consequences of the economic crisis typical of contexts of war. However, the filmmaker sets the story many years later, in the middle of the First World War, which allows us to evade the Victorian era and places the drama in France.
Presented in the official competition of the Locarno Festival, Aurélia Georges develops the story of her film from an attentive visual care, and trying to extrapolate a linear and transparent narrative mode. From a classicism less and less seen today, the filmmaker introduces us, through specific vignettes, to Nelie, a servant of a middle-class house who is expelled to the street. There, she goes from prostitute to beggar, to later be helped by the Red Cross and become a volunteer nurse at the front, an opportunity that arises thanks to the fact that she is reading a novel by Victor Hugo. After a German attack, the nurse meets a woman, Rose, who confesses that she has been left alone and that she has been traveling from Austria to France because she has to meet with a woman from the upper class, who will receive her as a companion when giving her a letter from his father. After a bombing, the woman dies and thus the nurse assumes a new identity. This letter becomes her visa to another life, without poverty, hunger or humiliation. It is from here that La Place d ’une autre becomes a game of suspicions, masks, doubts, and we as accomplices of the lie of this character and of his growth within this elite social environment.
After having made L’Homme qui marche, in 2008, and The Girl and the River, in 2014, Aurélia Georges focuses here on the nuances of characters, from this game of impersonations, and from the graceful figure that the actress Lyna Khoudri embodies , which looks contained at all times, free of grand gestures, trying to better develop the role of “usurper”. Then there is a plot twist that will put Nelie’s entire image to the test before that society and, above all, before Eleonore, who is played by a well-known Sabine Azéma, the rich woman who shelters her.
And beyond any possible feminist or anti-patriarchy readings that may arise from reading the film, rather what interests me about this film by Aurélia Georges is how relationships between women are woven and unwound, where the term “sisterhood” seems to have no meaning or room. Rather, it is a story where the sense of survival prevails over any hint of sisterhood. There are even sequences where it seems that homoerotic feelings appear, in a very measured, detailed or subtle way, rather than a sense of affiliation. And that is why La Place d’une autre is an attractive experience, especially because Aurélia Georges chooses a different destination from the one the nurse has in the novel, much more in keeping with the freedoms of women in the following decades of the 20th century.
Director: Aurélia Georges
Adapted screenplay: Aurélia Georges, Maud Ameline
Photography: Jacques Girault
Edition: Martial Salomon
Sound: Dimitri Haulet, Jocelyn Robert, Dominique Gaborieau
Costumes: Agnès Noden
Cast: Lyna Khoudri, Sabine Azéma, Maud Wyler, Laurent Poitrenaux, Didier Brice
France, 2021, 112 min.