I don't usually get to watch films on broadcast t.v. (not enough time, too much else to do!) but last night, having sat down to watch the first episode of Chris Lilley's long-awaited new series Angry Boys (mixed feelings, but it's only the first, so we'll have to wait and see) -- well, I got caught, because a French film came on straight after, and I stayed up too late.
The film -- Carine Tardieu's La Tête de Maman (In Mum's Head) (2007) was mixed, too: I'm not a fan of the quirky, mildly pretentious bits that French film-makers seem to feel obliged to put in as perhaps some sort of nod to their often-experimental and non-realist history -- one more sequence that might-be-happening-but-isn't, one more irruption of a fantasy-character into an otherwise smoothly plausible plot, and I switch off.
However, certain aspects were quite compelling. The teenage daughter of the film, Lulu, is a tomboy on the cusp of maturity but stuck there partly because of the grinding pressure of her mother's (Juliette's, or Juju's) permanent depression and fixation on apparently psychosomatic illness.
Lulu accidentally discovers a photo and then a home movie in which she glimpses her now-staid mother's pre-marital life, twenty years before. Juliette back then was vivacious, happy, freewheeling and open to experiment of all sorts, madly in love with Jacques... not the man she married.
The rest of the film is about what happens when Lulu digs around in that past and tries to "improve" things for her mother. Despite the sometimes-twee gestures the film makes, the central story -- how naive youth works on assumptions about its parents -- kept me watching, and was handled with appropriate ironic distance on the daughter's actions as well as compassion for her own process of growth and lesson-learning.
(I could have done without the cameo from Jane Birkin, whom I find somehow irritating. Lulu is an obsessive Birkin fan and the singer-actress appears as herself in fantasy mode, as a kind of substitute mother-figure to Lulu, materialising and vanishing after their short dialogues.)
It's fairly well-acted in the parts that count (mother and daughter -- the rest are foils, even the waspish grandmother) and kept me watching till the end, in spite of myself...
(NB On the web this movie is often named with U.S. spelling, In Mom's Head.)