There may be only one female director with a film in competition at Cannes this year, but new work from women opened both the Un Certain Regard and Critics’ Week sidebars. Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring (which kicked off the former) was all swag and slebs; Suzanne could hardly be less concerned with shopping. The second feature from 33-year-old Katell Quillévéré, it’s the sort of woozily shot, remorselessly emotional, acutely observed socio-realist soap that both confounds and confirms chick-flick prejudice.
Baldly recalled, it sounds like a telenovela: Suzanne and her elder sister, Maria, live with their widowed father in the Languedoc. We see them first in primary school, then as Suzanne (Sara Forestier) is about to leave secondary and announces she’s pregnant. Flash forward five years and Charlie is part of the family (his father is never seen or spoken of) and Suzanne works in the office of the trucking company that employs dad. Then she falls in love, with Nicolas (Paul Hamy) who feels the same, but he’s a small-time gangster, and when he must leave, Suzanne must choose between him and her family.
It weighs in at just 90 minutes, but Quillévéré crams in 25 years of life, with chiming between the early and late scenes; it takes time to absorb. The rapidity of the jumping between years cuts both ways: the pace is kept tight, but you’re often left reeling, not given space for events to settle before their repercussions have already become bread-and-butter to the characters. It’s a device that lends the film unusual oomph but after a few too many slaps can feel manipulative.
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