The 2014 French Film Festival in Sydney has hosted the world premiere of Marc Fitoussi’s new romantic comedy, Folies Bergère. Fitoussi, who also co-wrote the film, caught the attention of critics at Cannes a few years back with his film, Copacabana.
In Folies Bergère, Isabelle Huppert stars as Brigitte, a fifty-something cattle breeder who is increasingly fed up with her at times dour husband Xavier (played by Jean-Pierre Darroussin) and her ho-hum country existence. Their children are living their own lives; their son, Grégoire, a dreamer like his mother, is studying to be an acrobat, much to the chagrin of Xavier.
When the house next door hosts a teenage birthday bash, Brigitte is lured into the drunken reverie by the flirtatious (and gorgeous) twenty-something Stan (played by Pio Marmaï). The tryst spurs on Brigitte’s general dissatisfaction, and she books a trip to Paris, under the guise of a doctor’s appointment, for some space and in the confused hope of meeting Stan again. Brigitte finds the city invigorating, and is seduced by the charming Dane, Jesper (played my Michael Nyqvist).
The film explores the issues that inevitably arise in long-term marriages and relationships; once the children are gone, what ties can sustain a relationship? Can the love of a life lived together overcome the lure of lust? Can one forgive digression and let go of infidelity? It all sounds rather heavy, but the director has a subtle touch. Sometimes we endure our private battles without the raucous that a drama approaching these very issues is likely to serve up.
Isabelle Huppert, who also starred in Fitoussi’s Copacabana, is captivating as Brigitte. You might have been lucky (as I was) to catch Huppert on stage last year with Cate Blanchett in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Jean Genet’s madhouse play The Maids. In Folies Bergère though, Huppert merely flexes her muscles, her beautiful natural warmth tricking us in to the illusion she isn’t doing anything at all: she’s perfect.
Jean-Pierre Darroussin is excellent as Brigitte’s husband Xavier, seeing his progression from indifference to breaking point to stoic family man is beautiful. It’s also great to see Michael Nyqvist in a light role, I’ve only seen him in the terribly serious millennium trilogy so it was strange and lovely to see him smile.
What I loved about Folies Bergère, apart from the beautiful shots of Paris, is that Fitoussi doesn’t demonise his subjects; every character in the film is as much innocent as they are flawed. Sometimes it takes the infliction of a wound for us to change and to be changed.
The film is screening Thursday through Saturday this week at Palace Chauvel and Palace Norton Street. For show times, check out the French Film Festival program at afrenchfilmfestival.org/schedule.