Saturday, March 10, 2018

"Montparnasse Bienvenüe" -- Movie Review


This week, I attended the opening weekend of the French Cinema Film Festival at The Film Society Of Lincoln Center, screening the New York Premiere of the new drama, "Montparnasse Bienvenüe". 


When a directionless young woman breaks up with her live-in boyfriend, will she be able to rebuild her life on her own?


At the age of 31, Paula hasn't known an adult life of much responsibility; for much of the past decade, she has been in a relationship with Joachim, her much-older boyfriend, who's long-since established himself as a successful photographer.  Unexpectedly, Joachim now seems to have become bored with her and tosses her out of his apartment in the Montparnasse section of Paris where the two have been living for quite some time.  With no place to go and no one to help her, Paula suddenly finds herself homeless.  She has no job, no prospects and no friends. 

Paula takes what few belongings she has -- including her cat -- and sets out on her own.  Encountering difficulty trying to find a job, she instead travels the city in search of some cheap eats.  While on the metro, she runs into Yuki, a young woman who mistakes her for a former schoolmate.  Alone and desperate, Paula lies to Yuki and claims that she is indeed her old friend; Yuki then hooks up Paula with a woman who will hire her to watch her daughter in exchange for boarding in a small maid's room.  Soon after, Paula is able to secure a subsistence job as a clerk in a lingerie shop at a mall. 

Just as it seems Paula is finally getting her feet on the ground, Yuki discovers that she has been lied to and their friendship ends.  Shortly thereafter, Paula learns that she's pregnant by Joachim, who hounds her upon learning she's working at the mall; he begs her to return to him.  Once Paula reveals that she is now expecting their baby, Joachim becomes even more insistent that they become a couple again so he can take care of her and their child.  By now, Paula is not so sure she needs him any longer.  Will Paula keep the baby and return to Joachim or will she end the pregnancy and leave him forever?  


"Montparnasse Bienvenüe" (also known under the title "Jeune femme") is one of those movies that is more episodic than narrative; as a result, it never gives the viewer the sense of dramatic momentum driving toward some kind of a resolution -- at least, not until the issue of the pregnancy is introduced.  However, that doesn't come until late in the story; this leaves the audience wandering around for most of the film's hour and a half (not unlike the heroine herself).  From a viewpoint of the screenplay's structure as well as that of dramatic conflict, it might have been better for the character to have learned this earlier, thus forcing her to make different (and arguably) better decisions. 

Another problem is that the character of Paula is virtually rudderless and seems neither interested nor motivated to alter that; instead, her only concern is to survive from moment to moment, however that must be done.  As a result, it's very difficult to have much of an emotional investment in a character who can't (or won't) care about herself.  This is especially true because of the fact that she is shown to lie in order to get whatever she wants or needs at the time.  Is Paula and interesting character?  Definitely.  Complex?  Certainly.  But is she sympathetic?  Maybe not. 

One of the points that the movie seems to try to make is that certain types of people can feel somewhat lost in a big city -- especially one like Paris, where it is competitive and snob appeal is high (Montparnasse is a section of Paris on the left bank, near the river Seine).  A similarity can likely be drawn to New York City; either you figure out a way to survive here or you don't.  And if you do survive, will you merely lead a life of keeping your head above water or will you figure out a way in which you can stand apart from others?  Depending on your definition of the word "success", the answer may have different meanings.   

Montparnasse Bienvenue (2017) on IMDb

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