For his 2013 feature debut, Me, Myself and Mum, actor Guillaume Gallienne crafted a clever autobiographical comedy where he starred as both himself and his domineering French mother. Best described as a “coming in” movie where, in a major third-act twist, the director revealed that he was actually hetero despite the assumptions of everyone around him, Mum made a sizeable splash at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and went on to win three Cesar Awards, including best film honors.
In his follow-up effort, Maryline, Gallienne once again focuses on a sole performer — in this case, fellow Comedie-Francaise thespian Adeline d’Hermy, who became a societaire of the historic French theater back in 2010 and has performed in productions of works by Moliere, Marivaux, Shakespeare and Marguerite Duras.
Without much of a traditional plot, Maryline is basically a vehicle to showcase 30-year-old d’Hermy’s talents on stage and on screen, where until now she has played small roles in films like Yves Saint Laurent and Camille Rewinds. This will no doubt change after people see her in Gallienne’s generous, if somewhat vacuous, portrait of an actress-in-the-making, which follows the titular lead character from one catastrophe to another until she eventually comes into her own.
Set in an unspecified time period that looks vaguely like the late ‘70s or early ‘80s, the episodic narrative picks up Maryline (d’Hermy) as she arrives for her first big movie shoot, which is some sort of costume drama directed by a tyrannical German auteur (Lars Eidinger). Cripplingly shy yet alluring in mysterious ways, Maryline “has something,” as they say about budding stars, though it’s hard at first glance to see what. When she gets her period on set — in a contrived plot device that yields zero laughs — and embarrasses herself in front of the camera by failing to speak up, Maryline winds up loosing her cool, then punching out the director and calling it quits.
For a time she disappears into a working-class life as a mailroom girl in a Coen-esque office building, while also becoming something of a major lush. A few scenes set in her humdrum Gallic village, where her father died and her mother runs a local café, divulge bits of biographical information, but Maryline pretty much remains a cipher. She’s unable to communicate with others, spends a lot of time wallowing in her apartment and seems borderline on the spectrum. Yet when she’s given the chance to perform again — by a kindhearted film director (Xavier Beauvois) and lead actress (Vanessa Paradis), who helps her to overcome stage fright — Maryline manages to find her true calling, which turns out to be in the theater rather than on the screen.
This is definitely an actor’s movie, and one with little concern for story or character or even any kind of general meaning. Yet if you view Maryline as a performance piece rather than as a typical film — although Christophe Beaucarne’s gorgeous photography helps to lend it some cinematic flair — it can be intermittently thrilling to see how d’Hermy’s character slowly but surely crawls out of her shell and learns her craft, leading up to a closing act that’s a tour de force of wordless gestures and suppressed rage. Gallienne cleverly keeps us in the dark during the extended finale as to whether we’re watching a scene from Maryline’s life or a depiction of it on stage, blurring the lines between reality and fiction while doubling down on his movie’s theatricality.
Such effects could prove frustrating to viewers looking for something more relatable — Maryline has underperformed in France thus far, grossing a fraction of what the breakout hit Mum did in its first week of release — while likely making the film a pure curiosity item abroad. But as a work entirely dedicated to revealing the artistry of its lead performer, Gallienne’s sophomore effort ultimately does the trick, and by the time the curtain falls one longs to see what d’Hermy will do next.
Production companies: LGM, Gaumont, France 2 Cinema, Don’t Be Shy Productions
Cast: Adeline d’Hermy, Vanessa Paradis, Alice Pol, Eric Ruf, Xavier Beauvois, Lars Eidinger
Director-screenwriter: Guillaume Gallienne
Producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Sidonie Dumas, Guillaume Gallienne
Director of photography: Christophe Beaucarne
Production designer: Sylvie Olive
Costume designer: Caroline De Vivaise
Editor: Valerie Deseine
Casting director: Nathalie Cheron