‘Next Year’ (‘L’annee prochaine’): Film Review

Chrysalis Films
A touching if aesthetically underwhelming take on the Paris coming-of-age tale  

Constance Rousseau and Jenna Thiam co-star in Vania Leturcq’s feature debut

Offering up a modest cinematic spin on the classic province-to-Paris Bildungsroman, Next Year (L’annee prochaine) follows two distaff BFF’s trying to make it in the City of Lights as their friendship is tested and their bank accounts slowly dwindle away.

Carried by rising stars Constance Rousseau and Jenna Thiam, this intimate debut from Belgian writer-director Vania Leturcq brings nothing really new to the table, and unfortunately drowns out some of its best moments with a nonstop pop-rock score. But it still provides a touching portrait of growing up and in some cases, giving up, which should help it find additional fest play after a run that’s included stops in Montreal and Atlanta, where it nabbed prizes for best first feature.

Ever since Honore de Balzac’s 1835 novel, Le Pere Goriot, depicted young country bumpkin Eugene de Rasitgnac navigating Paris’ bourgeois labyrinth, and losing his innocence in the process, there have been hundreds of books and films – ranging from Flaubert’s Sentimental Education to Chabrol’s Les Cousins – attempting to capture the “splendor and misery” (Balzac, again) of the experience.

Leturcq and co-writer Christophe Morand take the case of two lifelong teenage friends – the discreet bookworm, Clotilde (Rosseau), and the raucous artist, Aude (Thiam) – who, after graduating high school, decide to leave their quiet farm town behind and study in Paris. The choice isn’t easy for either of them, especially with Clotilde’s widowed father (Frederic Pierrot) emotionally blackmailing her and Aude resisting a decision that Clotilde basically made in her place, while being forced to separate from zealous local boyfriend, Stephane (Kevin Azais).

Of course, Paris doesn’t turn out to be what they were hoping for – though it’s also rather unfortunate that the film, which was shot in Strasbourg and other places, never really takes advantage of the city’s unique and jaw-dropping geography. Even when, early on, the two girls climb to the roof of their apartment to take in the view, one of composer-singer Manuel Roland’s kitschy ballads envelopes the soundtrack, turning a potentially powerful moment into something more akin to a perfume ad.

Such aesthetic choices wind up hampering what’s otherwise an intriguing and often believable coming-of-age tale, revealing how Clotilde and Aude each wind up choosing a life reflective of their distinct personalities, even as their friendship suffers the consequences. In that sense, Next Year is less a Balzacian urban strife story than it is a female bromance with hints of Parisian cruelty, including the intellectual beatings Aude takes from her art teachers, and Clotilde’s relationship with an older philosophy professor (Julien Boisselier) who must be Kant’s very definition of pretentious d-bag.

While Leturcq doesn’t showcase much finesse in the aesthetics department – the incessant score really is a drag – she does a great job with her young cast, coaxing strong performances out of Rousseau (Simon Killer), Thiam (from the TV series Les Revenants) and Azais (who won a Cesar for last year’s Love at First Fight). Even if some scenes are a tad overplayed, the connection between the two girls goes a long way toward making Next Year an ultimately moving experience, and the final, wordless exchange between them says more than all the books at the Sorbonne combined.

Production companies: Helicotronc, Offshore, RTBF
Cast: Constance Rousseau, Jenna Thiam, Julien Boisselier, Kevin Azais
Director: Vania Leturcq
Screenwriters: Vania Leturcq, Christophe Morand
Producers: Fabrice Preel-Cleach, Anthony Rey
Directors of photography: Virginie Surdei, Nicolas Boucart
Production designer: Valerie Elder Fontaine
Costume designer: Anais Guglielmetti
Editor: Pierre-Yves Jouette
Composer: Manuel Roland
International sales: Helicotronc

No rating, 107 minutes

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