PANORAMA: J’ENRAGE DE SON ABSENCE BY SANDRINE BONNAIRE

This entry was posted on August 13th, 2013

By José Sarmiento Hinojosa

Jacques (William Hurt) and Mado (Alexandra Lamy) are a couple who loses their child tragically in an accident and gets separated because of a destructive mourning process. After leaving to America to restart his life, Jacques gets reunited with her former wife, returning to France to handle his father succession. There, he’ll meet her 7 year-old son of a new marriage, Paul, and a succession of obsessive and morose passages will lead to disaster.

This sophomore effort by powerhouse French actress Sandrine Bonnaire bears the baggage of previous experience: She has been behind cameras with some of the best French filmmakers of all time (Rivette, Chabrol, Varda, Pialat, Leconte, among others), so it would come as no surprise that expectations of her work as a filmmaker are set high, and the unavoidable question of which influences would Bonnaire get from the masters she had worked with rises immediately. Also, this would be her first film behind a crew, multitasking behind camera beyond her first work Elle S’Apelle Sabine (2007), a documentary about her autistic sister built over 25 years of footage.

¿Does Bonnaire deliver? Not completely. It’s precisely the baggage of previous experience that makes J’Enrage de Son Absence a film both flawed and correct, with some exceptional moments, but heavy (sometimes too heavy) on the dramatic side. Bonnaire, as a filmmaker with the experience of an actress, meanders in her character’s faces and expressions, images of sorrow and sadness, of uncontrollable obsession and emotional void. Some of these moments are truly engaging, especially the scenes shared by William Hurt and Alexandra Lamy, but overall, one gets the feeling that we’re being overcharged with emotion (with a somehow beautiful score but featuring an abusive use of pieces by Arvo Pärt and Henryk Górecki) and not exploring the characters inner universe in detail. Alas, what we get is not the essence of drama, just the surface of the dramatic tension. It’s a superficial level that doesn’t get explored enough and that would’ve made this film a complete success.

Besides that, Bonnaire mise in scene is flawless. Impeccably photographed, it bears the elegance of Patrice Leconte90’s films, if not his pulse of the narrative.  A care for the detail is shown in every shot, and in that one cannot argue that in its formal side, J’Enrage… is formidable. But then again, returning to the story, it feels somewhat loose, like if the performances of their lead characters would have to carry the weight of the whole movie. And they do from time to time, when they’re somewhat contained. But this happens only for moments and her lead characters become completely lost in his depiction of sadness, obsession and rage. Hurt cannot achieve the internal grieving process that made Juliette Binoche’s performance in Bleu such a memorable one, and Bonnaire is not Kieslowski in what she chooses to portrait and what to hide. It’s not completely overblown (like, for example, Gonzales Iñarritu’s treatment of characters), but it is noticeable enough.

Bonnaire still has to liberate herself of the baggage of performance and get immersed into the beauty of construction of characters and narrative, but this is an effort that shouldn’t be completely overlooked for its merits.

Director: Sandrine Bonnaire
Production: Dominique Besnehard, Michel Feller, Jesus Gonzalez, Nicolas Steil, Thomas Schmitt
Written by: Sandrine Bonnaire, Jérôme Tonnerre
Cinematography: Philippe Guilbert
Cast:  William Hurt, Alexandra Lamy, Augustin Legrand, Norbert Rutili, Jalil Mehenni