Yuki & Nina -- Film Review


Bottom Line: A deceptively simple story of how a child deals with separations and cultural uprooting.

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CANNES -- Two little girls, one French and one Eurasian, respond to crises of separation by escaping in nature and fantasy in "Yuki & Nina," a low-key children's drama made for adults, with the faintest touch of magic-realism. A directorial collaboration between Japanese auteur Nobuhiro Suwa and French actor Hippolyte Giradot, the film's minimalist setup and naturalistic, conversational interactions mask a structural sophistication and continue Suwa's ongoing cerebral and formalist exploration of duality. Technically, the clear-cut editing and classical, crystal-clear cinematography are a sight for sore eyes.

For an elite coterie of festival connoisseurs, to whom Suwa and Giradot are both esteemed figures, this Japanese-French co-production is easily the former's most intellectually accessible and least visually trying works. However, post-festival life is precarious, as any general audience who might initially be impressed by the spontaneous child's perspective on the socially relevant issues of divorce and mixed marriages will be worn out by the monotonous rhythm and stifled, detached tone.

Yuki (Noe Sampy) -- who has spent her entire life in France with her French father (Giradot) and Japanese mother (Marilyn Canto) -- is suddenly told that her parents are getting a divorce. She has no more than a few weeks to move to Japan with her mother for an unforeseeable period. Best friend Nina, who lives with her divorced mother, helps Yuki write a letter in the name of the Love Fairy to implore her parents to think twice. The mother and father's troubling responses demonstrate how adults can behave in more selfish and childish ways. The scene in which Yuki's father callously forces Yuki to accept that she cannot change anything, that she will have an exciting new life, so she should let him get on with his, is agonizing to watch, and shocking because it is directed with such head-on simplicity.

"Yuki & Nina" can be seen as a companion piece to Kim So-young's more warm and engaging "Treeless Mountain," in which two little sisters are wrenched from their single mother and shuttled to different homes. Both films are shot from the girls' eye level and uniformly feature performances so unforced the cast seems oblivious to the camera. Incidentally, both chart a journey back to a rustic environment where they face an open-ended future. However, while the sisters in "Treeless" precociously learn to acclimatize to the unpredictable grown-up world, Yuki and Nina stubbornly cling on to their self-contained logic, and devise their own way to solve their problems.

In Grimm's fairy tales and other classical mythology, the forest is a locus of the unknown, of enchantment, metamorphoses, even danger. Freudian readings associate it with rite de passage, sexual or otherwise. To Yuki, the forest is a dreamlike portal into her fantasy or subconscious projections of her submerged Japanese identity, and unknown future life. Beyond the narrative, it is also a symbol of the film's own fascinating cinematic dialogue, between Eastern and Western aesthetics, between a performing artist (Giradot) and a director (Suwa) -- the two shot and edited many scenes separately in France and Japan. It thoughtfully integrates all the elements of Suwa's fundamental theme of duality -- previously expressed in the form of marital discord in "2/Duo", "M/Other," "Un couple parfait" and in the form of French-Japanese cultural exchange in "H Story."

Festival de Cannes -- Directors' Fortnight

Sales: Films Distribution
Production: Presented by Ad Vitam Distribution, produced by Comme des Cinemas, co-produced by Les Films du Lendemain, Arte, Bitters End
Cast: Noe Sampy, Arielle Moutel, Marilyne Canto, Hippolyte Giradot
Directors-screenwriters-editors: Nobuhiro Suwa, Hippolyte Giradot
Director of photography: Josee Deshales
Production designers: Emmanuel de Chauvigny, Veronique Barneoud, China Suzuki
Music: Foreign Office
Costume designers: Jean Charline Tomlinson, Miwako Kobayashi

No rating, 93 minutes