SUZANNE (2014)

4 star| Dir: Katell Quillévéré

You’d be remiss not to congratulate Quillévéré on this attempted epic, charting the titular Suzanne over a 25 year period from early childhood, after the death of her mother, to criminal adulthood. Its ambition over 95 minutes is at once refreshing and lofty, with Quillévéré displaying a talent for well observed characters and mood creation. But that ambition ultimately acts as resistance against the film, not stumbling over it but more a constant battle against it like a cyclist peddling into the wind. Those 95 minutes contain a really good film, but likewise contain the potential for a trilogy of really great films.

As much as Suzanne is about Suzanne (Sara Forestier), it is truly a focus on more than just one character. We course the same timespan with Suzanne’s sister Maria (Adèle Haenel), father Nicolas (François Damiens) and her young son Charlie as we gain fascinating insight into how different two siblings’ personalities and aspirations can diverge despite sharing a mutual upbringing and DNA, yet still appear bound to the same darkness. Both are relatively carefree and unruly but Suzanne progressively becomes more impulsive, channeling her trauma into rebellious and self-defeating acts, while Chloe heads in a level-headed and sensible direction but still struggles financially. The gradual evolution of these characters is engaging viewing, aided by the excellent achievement in physically aging the actors.

The material is used to full advantage by the very impressive cast, especially the tougher emotional scenes which are nailed emphatically by Forestier. Haenel gives a lovely performance – having developed into a strong (and gosh darned gorgeous) actress since Céline Sciamma’s Water Lilies -, while Damiens is a personal highlight after a career of mostly comedic roles. Nicolas has sacrificed a lot for his girls and received little reward; attempting to save them from hurt he ends up projecting his pain and suffering onto them. His arc nicely ties the film together as he wonderfully juggles unconditional love, disappointment, embarrassment, regret and justified rage.

As enjoyable as the film becomes, I badly wanted to nourish the carefully crafted moments of absorbing drama at a slower pace. Essentially cramming such a load of narrative into its running length results in an episodic nature, limiting the ability to get beneath the surface of these characters and provide more understanding behind Suzanne’s decisions which at times can remain insufficiently empathized.


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