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French screenwriter Marie Garel-Weiss makes a rather promising directorial debut in The Party’s Over (La Fete est finie), a film that, true to its title, explores the friendship between two recovering heroin addicts who have to piece their lives back together after years of substance abuse. Featuring intense, naturalistic performances from young co-stars Clemence Boisnard and Zita Hanrot, this intimate drama does not necessarily reinvent the wheel in terms of the druggie genre, but it does shine a light on how addiction and relationships can be intermingled in compromising ways.
A frenzied first scene has the rambunctious Celeste (Boisnard) trying to cop some dope on the streets of Paris. Captured in shaky handheld closeups by DP Samuel Lahu (Mercenary), the opening is reminiscent of the Safdie brothers’ 2014 chronicle of drugs and youth, Heaven Knows What, although the film soon adapts a more conventional stylistic approach to its narrative.
After she gets hit by a car and lands in the hospital, Celeste is sent to a rehab clinic far away from Paris. There, she quickly befriends her roommate, Sihem (Hanrot), a young woman as dark and taciturn as Celeste can be feisty and outspoken. In a series of group therapy sessions, the two reveal a rebellious streak that soon pits the other patients against them. Things only get worse when they’re caught taking a bath together and risk being sanctioned for breaking the rules.
Yet as close as Celeste and Sihem become, their bond remains a purely platonic one: they’re just two girls who want to have fun, all the while knowing that such excitement could lead them into more trouble. In a way, their friendship turns into a substitute form of addiction, and Weiss perceptively shows how they grow mutually dependent on each other as a means to survive — even if, as a psychiatrist (Pascal Reneric) at the clinic warns them, such dependence may prevent them from fully kicking their habits.
When they finally get booted out of rehab and land back on the street, Sihem takes on the more motherly role of the two, finding a job and renting an apartment where they can stay. Celeste, meanwhile, gets the party started again, and her refusal to remain clean will drive a wedge between the girls that will have major consequences for both.
Written by both Garel-Weiss — whose screen credits include Gallic genre flicks like Goal of the Dead — and Salvatore Lista (Eat Your Bones), the script takes some fairly familiar turns as it follows Celeste’s and Sihem’s dual trajectories, with an upbeat denouement that never feels entirely earned and comes a bit out of nowhere. But the screenplay is also filled with strong observational moments, such as a rather heartbreaking scene where Sihem tries to reunite with her family in the Paris suburbs, only to be turned away by a resentful older sister.
Hanrot was a discovery in Philippe Faucon’s Cesar award winner Fatima, and here she delivers an edgy hot-and-cold performance that recalls Angelina Jolie’s psych ward patient in Girl, Interrupted. She’s well-matched by relative newcomer Boisnard (Django), playing a young woman for whom all seems to be lost at the start, yet who manages to claw her way out of addiction and get her life back in order.
In the film’s third act, Garel-Weiss adapts a semi-documentary approach as we follow Celeste through Narcotics Anonymous sessions that seem to be populated by actual recovering addicts. The drama somewhat dissipates at that point, although it’s still rather moving to watch how the young rebel grows into a mature and responsible woman. The fate of Sihem, however, is less certain, and closing scenes play off this unexpected reversal of roles.
Backed by a rather conventional electro score, The Party’s Over rehashes material — from The Panic in Needle Park to Drugstore Cowboy to The Dreamlife of Angels — that we’ve perhaps seen before, but benefits from the energy that its two gifted stars bring to the table. As a first feature, it’s a flawed but sincere coming-of-ager, and we’re left wondering what both its director and talented cast will do next.
Production company: Elzevir Films
Cast: Zita Hanrot, Clemence Boisnard, Michel Muller, Christine Citti, Marie Denarnaud, Pascal Reneric
Director: Marie Garel-Weiss
Screenwriters: Marie Garel-Weiss, Salvatore Lista
Producer: Marie Masmonteil
Director of photography: Samuel Lahu
Production designer: Guillaume Deviercy
Costume designers: Lou Garel, Mildred Giraud
Editors: Riwanon Le Beller, Guerric Catala
Composers: Ferdinand Berville, Pierre Allio
Casting director: Youna de Peretti
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