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PARIS – When she finally buys an apartment with her high-school sweetheart, a 30-something Frenchwoman gets cold feet in Gazelles (Les Gazelles), the latest feature from The Hedgehog director Mona Achache.
The film stars and was co-written by Camille Chamoux, whose stand-up routine Camille Attaque! served as the inspiration for this story about being a single woman in her mid-30s, which can be a decidedly different experience after a first taste of couplehood and, perhaps, while trying to raise a child as a single mother, as one of the supporting characters does here. An ode to womanhood and freedom as well as people’s need for connection, friendship and sex, Gazelles is a joyous but generally also quite realistic next-generation girl-power statement that, with the right marketing, could connect with the same kind of audiences that ate up Bridget Jones’s Diary, gained a few pounds but didn’t care one ounce. It opens in France March 26.
Marie (Chamoux) is about to sign a 30-year mortgage that’ll allow her and Eric (Franck Gastambide), her partner of 14 years — weddings are so last century! — to finally buy their own apartment. A chance meeting with a girl from her high-school years (Marie Dompnier), who has traveled the world and shacked up with a photographer in L.A. for several years, makes Marie realize that she hasn’t much moved on from her student days; she’s still going out with the same guy and has been stuck in the same office job since what feels like forever.
Add to that a broodingly handsome man (Samuel Benchetrit) who buys Marie coffee and compliments her on her dimples and suddenly she decides to leave Eric, new apartment be damned! That night, suitcase in hand, she ends up at a raucous, fraternity-like party at one of her snappy colleagues’, the single mom Sandra (Audrey Fleurot), who finally introduces her to her posse of girlfriends: rationalist and psychoanalyst Gwen (Anne Brochet), in her early 40s; party girl Judith (Josephine de Meaux), in her early 30s but always celebrating as if she were barely of legal drinking age (in France) and everything was new, and beautiful Myriam (Naidra Ayadi), who’s in a relationship with a much older and settled man and who seems to compensate by going out to party with her single friends.
Marie tries to get used to the idea of sleeping with different men just for pleasure, though, amusingly, initially she finds it hard to tune into the right frequency for one-night stands (“always escape in the morning, never ask for their name”). Though her lawyer mother (Josiane Balasko, the star from The Hedgehog) doesn’t approve of her separation and worries about how she’ll pay her mortgage, Marie slowly starts to like her looser, more noncommittal way of living.
The film’s at its best in its rich midsection, when Chamoux, Achache and co-screenwriter Cecile Sellam have Marie question her newly learned single ways and she wonders why none of her girlfriends can or want to commit. This also results in a satisfying parallel subplot in which Sandra, who has taken poor Marie in, also seems to finally meet a guy with longer-term potential, making her question her by now firmly ingrained single-mom routine.
The way in which the women discuss or suggest their fears, insecurities and desires rings absolutely true, even if the third act is filled with behavior that feels like it’s dictated by plot necessities rather than who these women are as people (a contrived subplot involving a Polish construction worker, played by Maciej Patronik, is shoehorned in so it can provide the elements needed for the film’s finale, while the dating fate of Gwen is essentially a sexual deus ex machina).
Performances from the spirited ensemble are solid across the board, while Achache also beautifully manages to anchor the film in very specific and rigorously non-touristy neighborhoods in Paris that betray something about the backgrounds, financial situations and desired upward mobility of the characters. Beatrice Hermini’s editing and the combination of Eric Neveux’s score and a soundtrack of pop songs keep moving things forward throughout.
Production: Recifilms, Orange Studio, Cinefrance 1888, France 2 Cinema
Cast: Camille Chamoux, Audrey Fleurot, Anne Brochet, Naidra Ayadi, Josephine de Meaux, Olivia Cote, Franck Gastambide, Samuel Benchetrit, Miljan Chatelain, Maciej Patronik, Josiane Balasko, Sam Karmann
Director: Mona Achache
Screenwriters: Camille Chamoux, Cecile Sellam, Mona Achache; screenplay based on Chamoux’s one-woman-show Camille Attaque!
Producers: Mathias Rubin, Eric Juherian
Director of photography: Patrick Blossier
Production designer: Samantha Gordowski
Costume designer: Elisabeth Mehu
Editor: Beatrice Hermini
Music: Eric Neveux
Sales: Other Angle Pictures
No rating, 99 minutes
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