SIFF Review: The Girl From Monaco

2009 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE!
Rated R
95 minutes
Soudaine Compagnie

**

“The Girl From Monaco” is party buddy-comedy, part romantic tragedy. If it had been more of the former than the latter, perhaps I would have liked it. But I am so tired or stories about men who are powerless against the wiles of a Succubus.

What’s a succubus, you might ask? Well, it’s somewhat synonymous with a Femme Fatale – a woman who uses her sexuality to manipulate men into doing whatever she wants, usually to their detriment. However, a Succubus is different because she doesn’t seem dangerous at first. She’s usually fun and flirty and might even seem a little simple. But she knows what she’s doing. She finds a target and puts her claws into them, not letting go until they’ve convinced themselves they’re in love with her. Audrey (Louise Bourgoin), the titular girl, is one of those ladies. A townie from Monaco, she meets a Parisian lawyer named Bertrand (Fabrice Luchini) who is there working on a case. Inevitably, he allows her to worm her way into his life and wreak havoc.

Audrey is a local weather girl who got her start, naturally, on a reality TV show. In addition to musical weather reporting (it’s true, Succubi love to sing), she also reports short human-interest stories. She decides to do one on Bertrand so that she can get closer to him. It’s clear from the start that Audrey has sugar-baby ambitions. She’s not very smart but she knows how to make a man do what she wants. In Bertrand, she sees the opportunity to have a life of leisure in Paris.

Since Bertrand is working on a high-profile case, he is assigned a bodyguard named Cristophe (Roschdy Zem). Christophe is a serious and straight-laced guy with a direct manner of speaking. Physically, he’s a cross between Lou Ferrigno and President Obama. He also happens to be Audrey’s ex. (Not that it’s a coincidence. Apparently, she’s slept with everyone on the island. Like, literally.) Contrasted with the irrational, shortsighted Bertram, Christophe’s way of handing things is pretty amusing. That’s the buddy-comedy aspect that could have worked. But this movie isn’t called “The Lawyer and the Bodyguard.” It’s the fucking “Girl From Monaco.” So instead of hilarious differences of opinion and high-speed chases, it’s scene after scene of Bertram being suckered by a Succubus.

Bertrand is supposed to be an awesome lawyer – a miracle worker. But he’s bumbling and a terrible judge of character. He has issues with two other women before encountering Audrey, both of them failures in some capacity or another. Clearly Audrey isn’t an exception to his normally discerning love life. He’s actually kind of a schmuck too. It makes it hard to feel sorry for him.

For a while, it makes things a little more fun to imagine Christophe as Barack Obama, securing perimeters and dispensing advice. But mostly, it’s annoying watching Bertrand fall for Audrey’s shit over and over again. And then Christophe proves that he’s learned nothing from his own past with Audrey. Oh, Mr. President! How could you?! If some men are really like this, I don’t want to know about it.

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

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SIFF Review: Poppy Shakespeare

2009 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE!
Un-rated
90 minutes
Cowboy Films

***

Welcome to the Nut House. Our guide, known simply as N, is a career outpatient nutter, living off British government-provided “Mad Money” and a happy hour cocktail of anti-psychotic medications. A bit of a loner, she’s clearly comfortable with the life she’s carved out. It’s not until she meets a new, reluctant patient named Poppy Shakespeare that she starts to question her routine and the policies at Dorothy Fish Day Hospital.

N begins by telling us, “It weren’t my fault, what happened to Poppy,” so straight away we know something bad is going to happen to the vivacious woman who is brought to the Dorothy Fish against her will. Poppy claims she took a test as part of a job interview and the next thing she knew, she was in the loony bin. She certainly seems sane enough. But then again, we’re seeing this entire tale through the eyes of a potentially unreliable narrator. After all, N is a mental patient, even if she is working the system.

Poppy and N strike up an unlikely friendship after N is assigned to show Poppy the ropes. In the process of helping Poppy prove her sanity, they uncover a tragic Catch 22. In order to hire a mental health lawyer to prove she’s not crazy, Poppy must receive Mad Money. In order to receive Mad Money, she must prove she is crazy. N must teach Poppy a skill that she’s perfected for years – how to act loony. Even without N’s forewarning, we know this can’t end well.

It may be called “Poppy Shakespeare,” but this is really N’s story. She doesn’t talk much about her past, but that’s probably because there isn’t much to tell. She goes to meetings, grabs her drugs, and goes on her merry way. She doesn’t have to work. She doesn’t have much of a social life. It’s the same thing every day. Once a year, in order to stay in the program, she must really pour on the crazy for a panel assessment. She’s a professional. But when Poppy’s attempts to prove her sanity start to take a real toll on her mental state, everything changes for N. Our protagonist starts to realize just how crazy she’s not. Tragically, N’s tutelage is a bit too effective for Poppy’s own good.

“Poppy” takes a cue from early Mike Leigh films, depicting the dark side of London with muted tones and apocalyptic speeches. The colors are especially engaging when they contrast with occasional brightness, such as N’s pallid, makeup-free face against her signature red coat. Poppy starts out so vibrant, strong and sweet that you become as smitten with her as N. It’s heartbreaking when things don’t go according to plan.

The supporting cast of crazies does dip into the realm of cliché. They seem to be trying too hard and their paranoid rants are fairly tedious. I couldn’t help but gloss over during the scenes they dominated. Then again, maybe that’s the point. After so many years dealing with those people, perhaps N has begun to tune them out as well. It’s difficult to know what the real story is when you’re seeing things through the eyes of a mental patient.

On the whole, the film is emotional, weird, and occasionally beautiful. It’s painful watching these two women attempt to navigate a system that seems more interested in statistics than in the people it was designed to help. It’s not a groundbreaking film by any means and it doesn’t quite hit all its marks, but you’d have to be mental not to find something to like about “Poppy Shakespeare.”

 

Originally posted on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).