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The green-eyed monster is but one of the problems of the protagonist of My Best Part (Garçon chiffon), the directorial debut from French actor Nicolas Maury (from Netflix’ Call My Agent!). Constructed entirely around the layered central performance of Maury himself as the mercurial man-child protagonist, this is a bittersweet comedy-drama that manages to be hilarious in one scene and extremely touching in the next.
Though Maury doesn’t quite stick the landing and the film, which could use a less generic English-language title, is definitely too long at 110 minutes, this is nonetheless a noteworthy debut. My Best Part was part of this year’s Cannes roster and will be also be part of the Industry Selects program at the upcoming Toronto fest.
The flighty and finicky Jeremie (Maury) is an actor who believes — and whose entourage at times makes him believe — that he’s still a queer ingénue, even though he’s pushing forty. His father recently committed suicide but even more difficult to handle for Jeremie is his incurable jealousy, for which he attends AA-style group sessions with other people whose lives have been consumed by envy and resentment. Jeremie’s first meeting with them is an early comic highlight. The actor’s seemingly incurable affliction also makes life with his boyfriend Albert (Arnaud Valois, the hunk from BPM) very complicated. So much so, in fact, that Albert, a vet with his own pet clinic, wonders whether they should take a break.
Feeling abandoned by his lover, and after having installed a camera in Albert’s tiny Parisian apartment, Jeremie goes home to his mother Bernadette (veteran actress Nathalie Baye) in the Limousin countryside. There, he tries to study his lines for an upcoming audition for Spring Awakening — “Am I still the right age to play a suicidal teenager?” he asks his agent; “Now more than ever!” is the caustic reply —while also attempting to deal with his father’s recent passing and patch things up with his earthy yet not easy mom.
The film’s best scenes unfold between Baye and Maury and against the backdrop of what could be described as the antithesis of frenzied Paris: rural France. Their relationship keeps toggling between tender and prickly, suggesting both are imperfect but also loving and lovable. When Bernadette suggests her adult son shouldn’t feel guilty about his dad’s suicide, for example, her son counters that the thought had never even occurred to him — but now it might bother him. Jeremie doesn’t always respect his mother’s efforts to help him, as when he loses his patience during their joint preparation for his audition because she’s not very au courant with either theater or the rehearsal process.
A scene in the kitchen in which Baye offers Maury a “beautiful potato,” on the other hand, is oddly touching. Ditto a spritz-soaked evening of confessions in Bernadette’s garishly appointed lounge that takes on shades of Xavier Dolan’s barbed and flamboyant mom-centric cinema (a feeling reinforced by the presence of Baye, who starred in Dolan’s Laurence Anyways and It’s Only the End of the World). Costume designer Elisa Ingrassia also visually suggests the two are cut from (nearly) the same cloth by dressing Jeremie in a camel-colored, plain leather jacket and giving his mom a suede jacket in a similar color.
The duo’s relative peace and quiet is quite frequently disturbed by various gorgeous men dropping by — their precise relationships with Bernadette aren’t always easy to immediately grasp — and, at one point, an unexpected quintet of nuns saves Jeremie from either himself or an unfortunate accident, depending on your point of view.
The tone of the story — which, like the characters that populate it, keeps going back and forth between extremes — is at once what is most interesting about it and also what doesn’t quite work in the end. The screenplay, which Maury co-wrote with Maud Ameline and Sophie Fillieres (the latter also a director), tries to pack in a little too much without quite finding the right balance and with too many subplots crowding each other out; there’s not enough room to develop the depth of feeling of the mother-son storyline in the other strands. It also makes the feature finally feel too long.
Jean-Marc Barr, Laurent Capelluto and Call My Agent! co-star Laure Calamy all cameo as crazy industry players, though a wordless appearance by a certain French diva gets the biggest laugh. That said, the film’s portrayal of the cutthroat Parisian acting world remains just a little too insider-y to register as anything more than a broad and easy target for drawn-from-life satire. Similarly, Jeremie’s relationship with Albert, whom he suspects is having a relationship with his coworker, is more a source of humor than tension or drama; their relationship is clearly doomed from the start, so the stakes remain very low.
(Spoilers in the following paragraph.) This brings us to the subplot involving young motorbike aficionado Kevin (rising star Theo Christine). This country kid with a hot bod and a heart of gold occasionally helps out Bernadette and seems like the perfect fit for Jeremie. Even the way in which Maury films both Jeremie and Kevin’s naked bodies visually suggests they are connected. There is a slight hiccup, though: Kevin identifies as straight. Neither Jeremie nor the movie seem to want to deal with this crucial bit of information, which makes the otherwise rather lovely final sequence — which, this being a romantic French movie, recalls the work of Jacques Demy and Christophe Honoré — feel a little unseemly, or at the very least unexplained.
That said, Maury is clearly a talent to watch who is capable of juggling extreme tonal shifts and who manages to come pretty close to that thing that people like Demy and Honoré manage to do in their best films: suggest the potent alchemy of euphoria and melancholy that comes from being in love and, even, from simply being alive.
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (Industry Selects)
Production companies: CG Cinema, Mother Production, High Sea Production, Les Films du Losange, L’Atelier
Cast: Nicolas Maury, Nathalie Baye, Arnaud Valois, Theo Christine, Laure Calamy, Dominique Reymond, Laurent Capelluto, Jean-Marc Barr, Florence Giorgetti
Director: Nicolas Maury
Screenplay: Nicolas Maury, Maud Ameline, Sophie Fillieres
Producer: Charles Gillibert
Cinematography: Raphael Vandenbussche
Production design: Damien Rondeau
Costume design: Elisa Ingrassia
Editing: Louise Jaillette
Music: Olivier Marguerit
Casting: Constance Demontoy
Sales: Les Films du Losange
No rating, 110 minutes
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