“ Genre: Crime & Thriller / Theatrical Release: 2008 / Suitable for 12 years and over / Director: Safy Nebbou / Actors: Catherine Frot, Sandrine Bonnaire, Wladimir Yordanoff, Antonio Chappey, Michel Armount ... / DVD released 2009-11-16 at Metrodome Video / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, PAL „
Elsa Valentin is struggling with life. Her husband has left her and wants to take their son with him, and she is obviously recovering from some kind of breakdown, although the trigger is not made clear. Then she becomes obsessed with a little girl, the sister of an acquaintance of her son. Much following and enquiring later, she finds out that the little girl is called Lola, and she deliberately gets to know the girl's mother, Claire Vigneaux. Claire is initially very happy to know Elsa, who she thinks is a 'nice woman', but eventually, she begins to suspect that all is not right with Elsa. What exactly is Elsa up to? Is her interest in Lola innocent, or is there a more sinister reason? And can Claire keep her daughter safe from this apparent mad woman?
It is a sad state of affairs that I had never heard of this film until I saw it recently in an independent cinema. The only reason for this appears to be that it is a French language film, and that in the UK, people are unfortunately not very open to films that aren't in English. This is a great shame, because I think this is a very good film; much better than much of the dross that finds its way onto our screens, and if you get the chance to watch it, it really is worth a look. It is, of course, subtitled, but the subtitles are brilliantly clear and it is a delight, at least as far as I am concerned, to hear the beautiful French language.
Elsa is played by Catherine Frot, an actress that I have never heard of before. However, she is excellent in the role. Very little is given away in the first part of the film and we are left to guess at the problems that Elsa has had to deal with. That she is suffering is very obvious from her face and the odd comment that she shares with her parents or friend at work. What I loved about her casting is that, although she is an attractive woman, Frot looks decidedly normal - there is no Hollywood make-over here. Her face is slowly slipping south and she has dark rings under her eyes. Most importantly, she looks very natural, and this helps to make the role all the more authentic.
Sandrine Bonnaire plays Claire Vigneaux. Like Frot, she is well cast - again, she is an attractive woman, but looks decidedly care-worn. This is an excellent role - again, her feelings are shown all over her face, from the friendly look she gives Elsa at the beginning of their relationship to fear and anger as she realises that there is something more to Elsa than she initially thought. Towards the end of the film, her mental health is clearly tested and Bonnaire does it so convincingly that I really believed she was heading for a break-down. I think it is rare for two main characters to give such in-depth performances - but here, it is very difficult to choose between the two of them.
What I liked most about the film is the way that the story is told. It starts out very slowly - the first couple of minutes involve Elsa walking through a shopping mall and I really began to wonder where the film was going. Then we are fed bits and pieces of information; enough to know that Elsa is not completely well, but not enough to know why. Her apparent obsession with Lola is a little creepy and until her secret is finally discovered, it really isn't clear where the film is going. Even when her reasons are made clear, there are still a few twists and turns to come, making this a film where the unexpected happens all the time.
I am always interested in films that portray mental illness, and I think that the actors, along with director Safy Nebbou, did a great job of portraying it convincingly. Initially it seems as though there is very little to forgive Elsa for, but as the film progresses and her story is told, I think the viewer's feelings will change towards her. What interested me most of all is that the film is apparently based on a true story. There is much that seems impossible, so to find that out is a bit of a shock - judging by the sharp intake of breath from other members of the audience, I wasn't the only one to feel this way.
There isn't much about the film that I didn't like. There are a couple of things that made me question how much of a true story this is, but I was able to suspend disbelief for the course of the film, and in any case, it seems that I may be completely wrong. The ending is perhaps not on a par with the quality of the rest of the film - it feels a little bit rushed and I would have liked a bit more explanation into how things worked out the way they did. Nevertheless, the fact that I had no expectations beforehand made this film very entertaining and enjoyable, despite the ending.
I saw the film in a cinema (The Electric in Birmingham) - where it was known as Mark of an Angel (L'Empreinte de l'Ange) - so cannot comment on special features with the DVD. At the time of watching, it had not yet been released in the UK, although it is now available on play.com.
On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I had gone to the cinema expecting to see something more mainstream, but was delighted with my choice - and so was the friend I went with. I'm just disappointed that it hasn't been marketed more widely in the UK. If you can handle subtitles and foreign languages, this film is absolutely worth watching. Recommended.
The DVD is available for pre-order from play.com for £8.99.
Running time: 95 minutes