Louise Wimmer: Film Review

Realistic but dramatically flimsy debut for writer-director Cyril Mennegun.

Directed and written by Cyril Mennegun, the film -- about France's growing provincial under class -- features a knock-out lead performance by relative newcomer Corinne Masiero.

A docu-style depiction of one woman’s slide into socio-economic purgatory, writer-director Cyril Mennegun’s Louise Wimmer features a knock-out lead performance by relative newcomer Corinne Masiero, yet never quite gels as a fictional exploration of France’s growing provincial under class. After world premiering in Venice’s Critics’ Week, the film opened locally in early January to strong reviews and decent box office. Additional fests and niche arthouse slots beckon.

The middle-aged titular heroine (Masiero) of this bare-bones, Dardenne-esque debut has certainly fallen on hard times: Living between her car and a storage shed, working a part-time job as a hotel chambermaid, and trying against all odds to obtain public housing, Louise scrapes by on a day-to-day subsistence that’s only a few Euros away from skid row.

Tracking his heroine’s every movement, gesture and facial tic, but offering up precious little in terms of dialogue, Mennegun presents a character indicative of France’s burgeoning working-poor population – a subject also tackled in journalist Florence Aubenas’ excellent recent book, The Night Cleaner. Yet while the director (whose documentaries include a 2005 portrait of A Prophet star Tahar Rahim) does a fine job at mapping Louise’s daily struggle to eat and sleep, he fails to reveal much about who she really is: Why doesn’t she trust anyone? Why did she never have a real career? How did she turn out this way?

Beyond a handful of references to Louise’s recent divorce, such questions are left unanswered, and the film opts instead for a purely visceral approach – a sort of Rosetta twenty years down the line, but without the crushing emotional undertow. The closing scenes are particularly disappointing in that sense, substituting any real character evolution for a denouement that relies on State providence to tie-up a rather loose narrative arc.

Fortunately, Masiero (who will appear in Jacques Audiard’s upcoming Rust and Bone) offers up a captivating and all-consuming turn as the troubled Louise, transforming scenes where not much actually happens into moments of intense realism. The bizarre, desperate dance she performs to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” – which plays recurrently like a broken record on Louise’s car radio – is surely the film’s dramatic highlight.

Crisp HD cinematography by Thomas Letellier and layered sound design by Alexandre Widmer (The Time that Remains) are additional pluses.

Opens: In France (Jan. 4)
Production companies: Zadig Films, Arte France Cinema
Cast: Corinne Masiero, Jerome Kircher, Anne Benoit, Marie Kremer, Jean-Marc Roulot, Frederic Gorny
Director, screenwriter: Cyril Mennegun
Producer: Bruno Nahon
Director of photography: Thomas Letellier
Production designer: Daphne Deboaisne
Costume designer: Christel Birot
Editor: Valerie Bregaint
Sales Agent: Films Distribution
No rating, 80 minutes

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