If there’s anything that I’ve discovered over the years, it’s that cinema is truly a universal language.
I’ve lost track of the number of film fans with whom I’ve bonded with over social media. Some of them live near me and some of them live very far away but the one thing that we all have in common is that we all love movies. For instance, I have a friend in India who loves Sofia Coppola almost as much as I do. Meanwhile, I’ve got friends in the UK who are as crazy about horror movies as I am and my friend Carlo in Italy shares my total disdain for Avatar. In short, films bring us together.
This month, I want to celebrate that fact here on the Shatered Lens. Along with my usual reviews, I’ll be taking a look at some films that were produced outside of the United States and far away from the Hollywood studios. Some of these films will be great and some of them probably won’t. Some of these films may be well-known and, again, some of them won’t be. What they all have in common is that they’re out there for discriminating viewers who aren’t scared of having to read a subtitle or two.
I want to start things off by looking at a French film, La fille au bracelet (The Girl With A Bracelet).
This low-key but thought-provoking courtroom drama opens with a family enjoying a day at the beach. We watch them from a distance and they seem almost like the perfect family unit. And yet, that perfection puts us ill at ease. We’ve seen enough movies to know that any family that appears to be perfect is going to be the exact opposite and, even more importantly, director Stéphane Demoustier knows this. Therefore, we’re not surprised when the police suddenly show up. We are perhaps a little bit more surprised when the police lead away not the mother or the father but instead, the teenage daughter, Lise (Melissa Guers).
The film jumps forward two years. Lise has been under house arrest ever since that day at the beach and is required to wear an ankle bracelet, so that the authorities can keep track of her. Lise has been charged with murdering her best friend, Floria. While her father (Rosdchy Zem) insists that Lise is innocent and gets involved in her defense, Lise’s mother, Celine (Chiara Mastroianni), has thrown herself into her work and says that she probably won’t even be able to attend her daughter’s trial.
As for Lise, she refuses to show remorse for a crime that she says she didn’t commit and she refuses to apologize for a lifestyle for which she feels no shame. As the proceedings begin, it becomes apparent that Lise is as much on trial for her perceived coldness and lack of conformity as for anything else. Much of the evidence against Lise seems weak. Lise and Flora had a fight shortly before the murder and Lise’s DNA was found on Flora’s body. Lise claims that she and Flora made up on the same night that Flora was found dead. While her parents listen, Lise’s sexual history is clinically dissected in the courtroom, suggesting that she is as much on trial for not conforming to society’s expectations as she is for any murder that she may have committed. Is Lise on trial because of the evidence or because she’s a member of generation that has been vilified by its elders? Is she on trial because she’s guilty or is she on trial because she’s a young woman who is not reacting the way that society expects women to react?
And yet, even though you want to be on Lise’s side, the film keeps you off-balance. Is it true that Lise is simply mourning her friend in her own way or is it possible that Lise is actually a remorseless murderer? At times, it seems like either one of the two could be true. The film ends on a deliberately ambiguous note, one that may leave some frustrated but which will also leave you thinking.
The Girl With A Bracelet requires some patience. The film plays out at a deliberate and methodical pace. However, your patience will be rewarded with a fascinating mystery that will keep you thinking. The cast is excellent, especially Anais Demoustier as the prosecutor. (Given the film’s theme of generational conflict, it’s interesting that the prosecutor is closer, in age, to Lise’s generation while Lise’s defense attorney is from her parent’s generation.) Melissa Guers makes her film debut in the role of Lise and gives an excellent and intriguing performance as an enigmatic character who always seems like she should be more sympathetic than she actually is.
I was fortunate enough to see The Girl With A Bracelet in Paris. (Two weeks later, and four days after Jeff & I returned home to the U.S., the entire world shut down. It’s strange to think about it now.) It’s a film that’s stuck with me and hopefully it’ll make it’s way over to the States sometime soon.